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State fracking chair hopeful: Enviro warnings 'emotional,' overblown

Posted September 24, 2012
Updated September 25, 2012

The state’s new fracking oversight panel will meet Friday to choose a chairman. For now, only one candidate has nominated himself for the job.

Lee County commissioner Jim Womack  was appointed to the Mining and Energy Commission by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.

Womack couldn’t say why he’s currently the only candidate for chairman of the MEC, but he believes he’s uniquely qualified to lead the fracking oversight board due to his background in the military, the private sector, and local government.

“Since our county is at the heart of the fracking potential in NC, I feel like I bring some local interest, local perspective that’s needed,” Womack told WRAL Monday afternoon. “I have an unparalleled work ethic — most people who know me would tell you that — and a conscientious desire to serve the public.”

The MEC’s job, in official terms, is to decide whether and how fracking should move forward. Womack doesn’t seem to entertain much doubt on either count.

“I believe it’s in the best interest of the state of NC to open the door to horizontal drilling,” Womack told WRAL Monday afternoon.

“I don’t think there’s any question that the shale gas industry is good for North Carolina,” he explained. “Anybody who argues against that is arguing from an emotional, not a logical or factual standpoint.”

Womack downplayed calls from environmental advocates to move slowly, dismissing their warnings that fracking could endanger the state’s aquifers.

“'Slow down' is not in my lexicon,” he said. “You’re more likely to have a meteorite fall from the sky and hit you on the head than you are to contaminate groundwater with fracking fluid percolating up from under the ground. It hasn’t happened.”

Moving quickly to set up a regulatory framework, he said, will be essential to bringing the industry into the state.

“The industry hasn’t shown any interest in coming here because we haven’t shown any interest the welcoming the shale gas industry to the state,” said Womack. “There’s a relationship that has to be built.”

Earlier this year, Womack delivered a presentation to the legislature’s Energy Policy Issues committee, recommending the model guidelines being promoted by the American Petroleum Institute, a group that lobbies in favor or oil and gas exploration.

“We have to put a regulatory framework in place so [energy companies] will understand that the regulations won’t be so onerous it’ll keep them away,” Womack said today.

That wasn’t what environmental advocates were hoping to hear from the state’s likely first fracking chairman.

“The MEC will have to take up very serious issues and it is disappointing that the only person running for its chairmanship can so easily dismiss those who have serious concerns about carcinogens contaminating North Carolinians’ drinking water,” said NC Sierra Club spokesman Dustin Chicurel-Bayard.

"Commissioner Womack's comment definitively stating that hydraulic fracturing can't and won't contaminated groundwater are difficult to reconcile with the EPA's recent discovery of fracking fluids in aquifers near Pavillion, Wyoming,” he said .

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has repeatedly denied any evidence of aquifer contamination from fracking chemicals. But a draft EPA study confirmed by an independent expert calls that into question, said Chicurel-Bayard.

“The sponsors of the fracking bill repeatedly stated that they wanted North Carolina to have the best regulatory program in the country. Unfortunately, Commissioner Womack seems to have interpreted that to mean the Commission’s goal should be to not let regulation get in the way of attracting natural gas companies to the state,” said Chicurel-Bayard. “We would hope to see more concern for public health, water resources and local control in a Chairman.”

There’s some chance Womack could face some competition for the commission’s top slot at Friday’s meeting.

DENR Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources director Tracy Davis is working with the new commission. Davis says Womack was the only candidate to nominate himself by the middle of last week. But the nomination process isn’t yet closed.

“Some of the other members may have been thinking about it, but haven’t decided yet,” Davis said. “We’re not really sure.”

Davis suggested that one of three candidates for vice-chair might decide to challenge Womack. Or someone else on the commission might put his or her name on the ballot.

“There could be additional nominations made during the meeting. They could nominate themselves or each other during the meeting Friday,” Davis said.

Womack didn't exactly welcome that news.

"I don’t necessarily encourage others to file now," he said. "But if that’s what someone else wants to do, they're certainly entitled."

9 Comments

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  • teej1 Sep 29, 1:49 a.m.

    There's no way fracking is safe. We cannot allow this to happen anywhere, especially in NC.

  • peterpepper Sep 26, 6:21 p.m.

    Canerday, you kin to him or just a good friend of his ?
    Perhaps neither, maybe you work for a big oil and gas company or maybe you stand to make a lot of
    $$ if drilling will be done on your property ?
    He's showing his ignorance , arrogance and the fact he's close minded on the issue.
    He's seemingly not open to look at all the consequences of fracking ...good and bad ....drill baby drill.
    Hope the first gas rig goes up in HIS backyard !
    There are too many people on that energy and mining comm. panel that have direct interests in gas and mining as it is. One with an attitude like his does not belong as the chair person, that's for sure.

    There are plently of draft studies on the net, google it. Views LOTS of videos on you tube and see how people are dealing with contaminated water they can light up ( not to mention polluted air causing nosebleeds, headaches, etc. ) after the wells are drilled , some being drilled right in their backyards .

  • native_father Sep 26, 5:00 p.m.

    Canerday, here you go, this is one Duke study I found in about 10 seconds, I hesitate to post as you dismissed the video, you will no doubt dismiss this, if you even take time to read it.
    http://www.propublica.org/documents/item/methane-contamination-of-drinking-water-accompanying-gas-well-drilling

  • PrayforAmerica Sep 26, 3:31 p.m.

    Womack may be the best man of the choices or simply the only one man enough to take fire from the environmental advocates. Anyone have a better candidate? If any of you armchair leaders think you have all the answers…. Then cough them up. By the way your little videos from movies show your lack of valid research. You should do better to argue your case. Thanks WRAL for including the presentation although a “draft” study from an “impendent expert” is weak.

  • peterpepper Sep 25, 9:44 p.m.

    I can't emphasize what a JOKE this Jim Womack is, the more I read this story about his views on fracking the more it p--ses me off.
    He needs to be written up in the "HISTORY" books.

  • native_father Sep 25, 4:14 p.m.

    What qualifies this guy to oversee the poising of our aquifers?
    Is it his job hopping resume on LinkedIn?
    http://www.linkedin.com/pub/jim-womack/2/362/786

    What a shame this opportunistic pleb, who "doesn't have 'slow down' in his lexicon, can not fully appreciate the time needed to research decisions regarding the potential destruction of our natural resources for generations to come!
    By the way meteorites fall from the sky everyday.
    According to Our Dynamic Earth, (http://www.dynamicearth.co.uk/education/howitallstarted_science.asp ),
    "The number of meteorites which survive the journey through the
    atmosphere, land on the Earth and are large enough to be seen and found is about 2 per day."

    It hasn't happened!?! Maybe not in NC yet, but this is where this guy will take us: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U01EK76Sy4A

  • peterpepper Sep 25, 6:28 a.m.

    What rock has this Womack guy been hiding under per contamination possibilites with fracking ?
    Slow down is the ONLY RIGHT approach to take in this matter.
    Oh wait, maybe he owns some land and stands to profit from gas drilling?!
    Go watch some vidoes on you tube Mr. Womack, read some horror stories in Penn. for starters and see what is really happening to landowners who have to live where their properties are being fracked then take a " realistic pill " !

  • dwbenfield Sep 25, 3:43 a.m.

    “I don’t think there’s any question that the shale gas industry is good for North Carolina,” he explained. “Anybody who argues against that is arguing from an emotional, not a logical or factual standpoint.”
    So, Womack has already dismissed any opposition to fracking before he even hears any evidence. Sounds like he's already been paid off by the drilling and gas industry.

  • electrosoundwave Sep 24, 9:11 p.m.

    Words cannot describe how sick this makes me feel. Oil money trumps reason. It's actions like this that make it even more clear that Citizens United was the worst Supreme Court decision since Bush v. Gore