Candidates for Senate District 1 took opposite sides on one of St. Tammany’s most charged political issues — fracking — at a Monday night forum sponsored by Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, one of the plaintiffs that has sued to stop Helis Oil & Gas from drilling near Lakeshore High School.
Sharon Hewitt, a mechanical engineer who worked for Shell, and Pete Schneider, a former House member, are vying for the Senate seat left open by A.G. Crowe.
Hewitt defended the law, saying that oil reserves “don’t know parish boundaries,’’ and that DNR has the expertise to decide where best to allow such activity. She defended fracking as a safe practice, citing an EPA report that found no ill effects on drinking water.
She also told a student from Northshore High School, where the event was held, that fracking “helps us become energy independent so our prices aren’t set by the crazies in the Middle East.’’
Schneider gave a one-word answer to CCST’s question about changing the law, grabbing the mike and simply saying, “Yes,’’ to applause from the crowd of about 60.
He then tied the issue to property rights, saying that the United States was founded because people didn’t have property rights in Europe. “Once you lose your property rights, you lose your freedom,’’ he said.
But Hewitt said that efforts to block fracking are denying landowners who want to profit from their mineral rights and questioned Schneider’s effort to frame the issue as one of property rights.
Schneider replied that the United States is a free country, and he is entitled to his opinion.
He also criticized tax breaks for fracking operations, saying that Louisiana has been giving away too much.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter at @spagonesadvocat.