ST. TAMMANY PARISH (WGNO) – Ian Somerhalder was raised in Covington and is adored by teenaged girls everywhere. But Wednesday night, the CW network’s Vampire Diaries star appeared in a different role, as a critic of a proposed oil fracking project in St. Tammany Parish.
“The fracking process does not lend itself to being in an environment that is considered a wetland,” Somerhalder told WGNO News. “The aquifer that feeds this area is the same aquifer that is threatened by hydraulic fracking.”
Helis oil is looking to drill a well just outside of Mandeville and north of Interstate 12. Wednesday night the company presented its plan for the well to a state regulatory department.
“The project has been very commonly done in Tangipahoa and many other parishes and counties across the country for decades and can be done safely, and will be done here safely,” Helis spokesperson Charlotte Batson told WGNO News.
The meeting was a first of its kind for the state which allowed the permit hearing to be held on the road and open to the public. Normally the hearings are held in Baton Rouge. Wednesday’s was at Lakeshore High School.
A group called Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany is leading the effort to fight the fracking project. Opponents blame fracking for everything from pollution to earthquakes in other states. The concerned citizens group also says the proposal violates St. Tammany zoning laws.
“And if zoning laws don’t matter, why do we have them to begin with? Do whatever you want to do because that’s the mentality we have up in Baton Rouge, and we’re going to change it,” said the president of Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, Rick Franzo.
Wednesday’s crowd at the hearing appeared to be mostly against the project. But some people showed up to support the drilling and the jobs it would create.
“There’s no reason not to trust fracking. It works,” one man told WGNO News.
The meeting is just the latest for St. Tammany. Prior meetings also attracted big crowds. But this one included many younger faces, teenagers who showed up to see Somerhalder.
People on both sides of the issue viewed the younger audience members as an opportunity to give new people a voice in the fracking decision.
“And I like the fact that these young kids are here. You know why? Because St Tammany Parish will belong to them in the future,” Franzo said.
“Hopefully they’ll come away having learned something about the oil and gas industry and the very high standards to which Helis Oil holds themselves in conducting their operations,” Baton said.
“These young, incredible individuals are our future,” said Somerhalder.