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Western Carolina University, site of last Friday's hearing on hydraulic fracturing. By RichardKenni CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia

Advocates say NC energy group hired homeless to tout fracking

Shane Thielges | Shale Plays Media

A North Carolina energy firm is accused of paying a group of homeless men to attend a state hearing on hydraulic fracturing in order to make public support for the practice seem stronger.

The Asheville Citizen-Times reports that the group of men were bused to a state hearing at Western Carolina University last Friday from the city of Winston-Salem. Many were given shirts or hats emblazoned with pro-fracking slogans and North Carolina Energy Coalition logos.

The Jackson County Coalition Against Fracking, a local advocacy group, released a report condemning the incident. It claims the men were not told what they were being asked to do, and in many cases were not knowledgeable about the hydraulic fracturing process:

“They were clueless,” said Bettie “Betsy” Ashby, a member of the Jackson County Coalition Against Fracking. “At least two of them I met definitely came from a homeless shelter. One of them even apologized to me and said, ‘I didn’t know they were trying to do this to me.’ One said, ‘I did it for the…’ and then he rubbed his fingers together like ‘for the money.'”

“They were scared,” Ashby said. “I don’t think they had any idea what they were getting into. Once they realized it, they were very uncomfortable. They were completely clueless about what fracking is. They’re being exploited seven ways to Sunday.”

When questioned, an official helping to organize the event said the men were “here to learn” but flipped his identification badge so it could not be photographed. Algenon L. Cash, chairman of the N.C. Energy Forum, downplayed the incident, saying officials identified a single homeless man at the event and asked him to leave.

Critics stressed that they did not object to the presence of homeless people at the meeting. Rather, they criticized the event’s organizers for taking advantage of people facing hardships and for attempting to create a false impression of support for fracking in the state.

North Carolina fast-tracked the fracking approval process last year, but has not initiated operations yet. Drilling may begin as early as next spring.

Get the details at the Citizen-Times: Did energy group bus homeless in to support fracking?

Related: North Carolina county’s lawmakers split on fracking bill

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