A small group of St. Tammany Parish residents opposed to hydraulic fracturing gathered in a Lacombe gym Tuesday night for a meeting that was part strategy session and part celebration of a Baton Rouge judge’s ruling Monday keeping alive a lawsuit that seeks to block Helis Oil & Gas Co. from drilling a fracking well on a 960-acre tract near Lakeshore High School.
The parish and the state Department of Natural Resources faced off Monday in 19th Judicial District Court, where the state argued that the parish’s suit, filed in June, should be thrown out. But Judge William Morvant said the case had enough merit for it to be heard, although he didn’t grant the injunction that St. Tammany sought.
The partial victory had opponents in a more upbeat mood than at some previous, larger meetings on fracking that have been characterized by heated rhetoric and sign-waving opponents.
Parish Councilman Jake Groby, who has been one of the more vocal opponents of plans by Helis to drill a well into the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale, said the judge’s decision means St. Tammany has the right to control its own zoning.
Groby started the meeting by having Anna Foster, a 16-year-old junior at Lakeshore High School, read a letter opposing fracking.
Foster’s letter, which she initially posted on her uncle’s blog, described the struggle against fracking as an epic battle and praised the parish government for “lifting its sword” against what she called the dragon of big oil.
Groby followed Foster’s impassioned reading with what he described as dry reporting from the EPA, outlining environmental damage caused at Clarington, Ohio, when fluids from a hydraulic tube used in fracking were sprayed on hot equipment, causing a fire that took days to put out and ultimately caused a fish kill.
“What is the parish’s plan, the School Board’s plan if an accident like this takes place?” Groby asked, saying the accident at Clarington was “not supposed to happen either.”
He also brought up an accident in Hennessey, Oklahoma, where another fire took place.
Concerns about possible accidents have riled up St. Tammany residents, who see the well as a threat to the area’s environment, specifically the Southern Hills underground aquifer from which the parish gets its drinking water.
The meeting also had a tactical purpose: getting opponents ready for a public meeting that the state commissioner of conservation has agreed to hold at Lakeshore High School on Nov. 12 on Helis’ request for a drilling permit. A spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources has described such a hearing as extremely rare.
Groby said he wants to make sure that fracking opponents use their speaking time at that meeting as effectively as possible.