DANBURY — The Stokes County Board of Commissioners got a clear message from residents on Monday.
More than 150 people, both from Stokes County and residents of other counties, showed up for the regularly scheduled meeting to discuss working on ordinances that would protect the health and welfare of county residents from possible future fracking operations in the county.
Fracking is a method of drilling used to reach pockets of natural gas. Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well.
This type of drilling uses massive amounts of water and has been known in some instances to release chemicals into the soil such as lead, uranium, mercury, ethylene glycol, radium, menthanol, hydrochloric acid and formaldehyde, according to the website www.dangersoffracking.com.
A total of 26 people spoke out Monday, telling commissioners that both fracking and coal ash had the potential to destroy Stokes County as they know it.
Residents of the Walnut Cove and Pine Hall area related horror stories of how they believe coal ash pollution has impacted their communities over the years.
Walnut Cove resident Tracey Edwards said coal ash had been linked to heart disease, cancer, strokes and respiratory disease and said she knew many people in the area dealing with those issues.
“I know people who are continuously getting tested for cancer,” she said. “Others are getting tumors biopsied to check to see if what they have is cancer. I have a friend who has had brain tumors. I don’t want our children to have these same issues. I want our residents to be able to live long enough to attend the Early College. We want to be able to live off our gardens and fish from the lakes and just be healthy.”
Babette Scales, who was wheeled to the speaker’s podium, said a lifetime of living on Pine Hall Road had taken a toll on her body.
She said a friend of hers who is a pastor at a small church in the area has 20 members of his congregation who are battling cancer.
“I asked what do they have in common,” she said. “The water and the air.”
Wesley Durrell showed the commissioners a gallon jug filled up with water from the Pine Hall area.
“You can’t drink it, you can’t cook with it,” he said. “Most of the people in Pine Hall are elderly people who have lived there most of their lives. They have been able to drink well water for years until here recently. They are on a fixed income and they cannot afford to buy bottled water each time they need a drink.”
Kyle Dalton, of Danbury, said she was very worried about the depths at which possibly gas-rich shale had been found.
“It happens to be at the depth of many people’s drinking wells,” she said. “The likelihood that this fracking could affect the wells seems like a no brainier.”
Jim Mitchell, owner and operator of Mitchell’s Nursery and Greenhouse in King, said he was worried that impacts to the water table from fracking could put him out of business.
“We have worked hard for 30 years and it is rolling, but when you are talking about an acre being watered one inch a day you are looking at 28,000 gallons of water,” he said. “I have heard that these people who do fracking will pay for the installation of water tanks, but can you imagine having tanks come to your community just so you can bathe? If you don’t have water to drink this county will be gone.”
Cheryl Ferguson, of Plum Granny Farms, said she had similar concerns about the impact fracking could have on her organic farm.
“A key component of that is water quality,” she said. “We are on an aquifer. The potential harm of ground water contamination concerns me greatly because the ability to mitigate it is very hard if not impossible. I am also concerned about ground water supply. Our ground water is already very limited and this has the potential to limit it even more.”
“Our parks and our river attract many tourists and dollars every year,” said Sterling Nicholson. “If they had to come through a fracking zone to get to Hanging Rock it would be very bad.”
Dalton also warned that one of the companies that had expressed an interest in fracking in the area uses propane instead of water for fracking operations.
“It is like using napalm,” she said. “It is a little like living next to a rocket launch pad. Many, many truckloads of liquid propane gel is needed for each frack job. Do we want potential bombs on our curvy backroads?”
But despite all of the dire warnings and concerns about fracking, the speakers came with a possible solution in hand.
“Ordinances can be crafted that do not violate the essence of the Energy Modernization Act,” said Robert Phillips, of King, who had asked the commissioners to consider a similar ordinance in May. “If we do not do something to protect ourselves we are leaving the door open for economic and environmental ruin. Counties all around us are working toward having similar ordinances.”
Therese Vick, a spokesman for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, said her organization was working with counties throughout the state to develop similar ordinances and to also put into effect moratoriums on oil and gas exploration.
Jerry Holdsclaw, of Westfield, agreed, noting that citizens asking for such an ordinance had packed the meeting.
“It is the opinion that you have rolled over and played dead in response to threats from the state regarding fracking, we feel you have turned a deaf ear to the citizens,” he said, noting that state law prevents local bans on fracking but does not prevent ordinances protecting the rights and welfare of citizens.
Board Chair Ronda Jones said the agenda for the next commissioners meeting had not been set yet, but said she would strongly consider having the topic on the discussion agenda.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.