Around 30 people wearing t-shirts with pro-fracking slogans showed up to a state hearing in Cullowhee, North Carolina, to support the shale gas industry last Friday. The problem is that many had no idea what fracking was.
Representatives from groups that oppose fracking told ThinkProgress that they believe the North Carolina Energy Forum (NCEF) compensated people to attend a state hearing in order to feign grassroots support for hydraulic fracking in the state. A group of people wearing “Yes Shale” t-shirts were bused 200 miles from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to Cullowhee in order to attend the hearing, activists from Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) and the Jackson County Coalition Against Fracking (JCCAF) told ThinkProgress. Some of the people in the group were homeless, according to anti-fracking activists present at the hearing.
North Carolina residents have been in a heated battle with the state government and shale interests ever since a moratorium on fracking that had been in place since 2012 was lifted in July. Hydraulic fracturing is scheduled to begin in 2015 and the mere prospect of fracking is already affecting local communities: “Fracking is already affecting property values; we can no longer insure our wells, and the first rock has not even been cut into yet,” Bettie Ashby of the JCCAF said.
Anti-fracking groups have been showing up en masse to state hearings to voice their opinions. Also present during at least three of these hearings is a man named Algenon Cash, who brings along with him a bus of pro-fracking-appareled shale supporters, Therese Vick of the BREDL said in an interview with ThinkProgress.
Cash is the chairman of the NCEF, which is sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute (API) — the largest trade association for the oil and gas industry in the United States. Evidence of API’s sponsorship of the North Carolina based group has all but been removed from NCEF’s website since this story broke, but it is still visible by scrolling down to the fine print.
When asked about the presence of homeless people in his group of supporters by the Asheville Citizen Times, Cash responded in a one-sentence email: “There was a homeless person who, once identified, was politely asked to leave.”
Anti-fracking activists insist that there was more than one homeless person at the hearing, and that they were being compensated for their attendance. “One of them showed me a card for the Bethesda Center for the Homeless,” said Ashby, adding that when she asked this man why he was there, he rubbed his fingers together, implying he had been paid. Another man told Susan Crotts of BREDL that “he was given a sandwich to be there, and felt duped.”
Additionally, a video of shale supporters in Cullowhee posted on Facebook by BREDL shows three men clad in pro-fracking apparel, who did not seem to know what the hearing was about. “I feel like we didn’t know about none of this stuff,” Winston-Salem resident Christian Bradshaw says in the video. Ashby, the activist who is shown questioning the men, said in a phone interview that most of the people she spoke to “didn’t know what the word fracking meant.”
The t-shirted shale supporters were being escorted by Cash and another employee of the NCEC, and were reluctant to speak to the anti-fracking activists when these men were around, as seen in the video. Ashby told ThinkProgress that Bradshaw expressed fear of being denied the three-hour-long bus ride home if he elaborated on his previous comments.
Over 600 people were present at the hearing. The overwhelming majority were opposed to fracking. According to anti-fracking activists, 90 people from across the state of North Carolina spoke against fracking. No one in Cash’s party of shale supporters, or anyone else for that matter, spoke in favor of the industrial practice. Concerns spanned a wide array of issues, from public health, to tourism, and property rights.
The first drilling permits in North Carolina become available on July 1, 2015.