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Chapel Hill council, residents take anti-fracking stance

One day before state regulators hold a public hearing in Chapel Hill on natural gas exploration in central North Carolina, the Chapel Hill Town Council plans to discuss Monday taking a stance against a controversial drilling method.

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Chapel Hill residents sounded off Tuesday against fracking, one day after the Chapel Hill Town Council took an official stance on the issue, passing a resolution against the controversial drilling method in a 7-2 vote.

State environmental officials held a public hearing at East Chapel Hill High School Tuesday evening on natural gas exploration in central North Carolina, where most attendees expressed emphatic opposition to hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."

Fracking, which is currently banned in the state, involves drilling horizontally into underground deposits of shale and then pumping a high-pressure mix of water and chemicals into a well to break apart the rock and release natural gas.

Chapel Hill resident Gordon Gross grew up in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of fracking, and he said he thinks people should be warned about the dangers of the practice.

"When I was a kid, you could walk to any river or stream and drink out of it. Now it would kill you," he said.

Maria Rowan, of Carrboro, said she also has concerns about its safety. 

"There is no way to shoot chemicals into a water table safely. It can't be done," she said. "Those of us who would like to see clean drinking water for our children and grandchildren ... don't want it. We are invested in our future and not just the profit margin right now."

Albert Eckol, of the N.C. Energy Forum, however, said fracking can be done responsibly and can provide economic benefits to the state, including job creation.

"I think North Carolina is a bit late to the party, but that can serve as a benefit," Eckol said. "It gives us the ability to learn from what other states have done."

It seems the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources agrees. 

The agency issued a draft report saying that regulators believe fracking can be done safely in North Carolina if proper safeguards are put in place first. Those include collecting baseline data for water and air quality, setting setback requirements around drill sites and standards for waste disposal and requiring full disclosure of the chemicals used in the fracking process.

DENR is expected to hand its final report over to state lawmakers in May.

On Monday night, the town council approved a resolution opposing fracking in the region without "guaranteed public health and environmental protections."

The resolution cites potential risks to the water supply in Jordan Lake and the possibility that fracking, which requires millions of gallons of water, could exacerbate water shortages during droughts.

Other area towns, including Creedmoor, have adopted ordinances in an effort to keep out gas wells.


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