by Billy Ball
As expected, county commissioners in Lee County—the presumably gas-rich, suburban county south of the Triangle—have taken a public stance opposing natural gas drilling, better known as fracking.
Lee County, which includes the county seat of Sanford, is expected to be one of the focal points of natural gas drilling in North Carolina in the coming years. But local leaders' resolution last week, approved by a new majority of Democrats, say the state's laws and the draft regulations proposed by the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission "do not adequately protect our environment, our county, or our state."
The resolution goes on to state that state law and the commission's rules "remove all local authority with respect to the extraction of natural gas and fail to provide local governments with compensation, either direct or indirect, for the impact of the extraction on local economies and infrastructure."
The vote rescinds an earlier resolution of support approved by a Republican majority in 2012. Among that majority was former Commissioner Jim Womack, who also served as chairman of the state Mining and Energy Commission. Womack, who was featured in a Feb. 2013 cover story in the Indy, chose not to run for re-election to the county board last year.
State leaders are expected to vote on the commission's regulations this year. Despite the fact that state laws expressly forbid local government bans on drilling, Clean Water for N.C. Executive Director Hope Taylor, whose nonprofit opposes fracking, said last week's move is "far more than a symbolic gesture."
"This is the county with potentially the most accessible natural gas, saying, 'It's just not worth it,'" said Taylor. "The change in perception in Lee County has been remarkable to behold."