Fracking debate spills over to Tangipahoa council

The sometimes contentious debate over hydraulic fracturing for petroleum products in St. Tammany Parish spilled over into neighboring Tangipahoa Parish when Sandra Slifer, of Covington, called upon the Parish Council on Monday to begin a dialogue to explore ways to halt or limit the drilling practice known as fracking.

Following a lengthy discourse from Slifer, who is president of the League of Women Voters of Louisiana, and a rebuttal from Kentwood resident Gerald Burns, the council remained largely silent on the issue.

Councilman Trent Forrest, who represents the northern end of the parish, said he has no problems with the companies now drilling petroleum wells in his area. He said drilling companies have been working very well with his constituents, and landowners are pleased to be receiving money for drilling leases on their land.

Forrest said the drilling companies have been using water from ponds for their fracking operations and had not disturbed aquifers that provide drinking water. He said parish roads have also been properly maintained.

Council President David Vial said after the meeting that members of the parish council have discussed drilling activities in the parish but at this time few complaints have been voiced by parish residents.

Slifer contended that drilling companies operating in southeast Louisiana have not followed proper procedures, have not always obtained the necessary permits for their operations and are a threat to parish roads and aquifers.

“You share the same aquifers that we rely on in St. Tammany Parish, and we must protect this source of water,” she said.

Slifer said oversight of the drilling industry is “fully short of what it should be, and we should all be concerned about what the results of fracking can do to our way of life.” Further, Slifer said her group has serious concerns about chemicals used in the fracking process to open holes in deep underground structures that hold oil and natural gas.

Burns, who said he grew up in Tangipahoa Parish , said petroleum exploration and development offer hope for jobs for young people, provide money for landowners who are already realizing “good pay checks” from selling leasing rights and could increase the parish’s tax base.

He pointed out that the Tangipahoa Parish School Board recently leased drilling rights to school district land at a rate of $1,500 per acre and added that if oil or gas is discovered on the land, the school system could gain a huge source of income.

Burns said fracking has been used by the petroleum industry for years and studies show no documented cases where the practice has harmed a source of ground water. He also said residents need not worry about chemicals that are injected more than 12,000 feet under the earth in concrete-encased well bases.