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Is fracking causing a schism in St. Tammany?

The fracking debate is beginning to cause rifts in St. Tammany Parish.

Helis Oil & Gas Co.’s proposal to tap into the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale by drilling a well near Mandeville has sparked heated debate throughout St. Tammany. But that debate is starting to shake things up in the community. According to Kit Chatelain for the Times-Picayune, Abita Springs, a small town less than 10 miles from Mandeville, is withdrawing from the St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce as a result of the controversy.

The Chamber recently showed support for the development of the energy industry in the region, having supported organizations like the Northshore Business Council, which openly supports the oil and gas industry. Officials in Abita Springs have interpreted that to mean that the Chamber backs the use of hydraulic fracturing as well as Helis’ desire to drill in the parish. In his letter to the chamber, Abita Springs Mayor Greg Lemons wrote, “As mayor of Abita Springs, I must express my disappointment in the board’s choice to align themselves so broadly with the oil and gas industry.”

Last week, a public hearing—a forum rarely granted by the Department of Natural Resources—gave the community the opportunity to voice its opinion about the proposed project. Many people who arrived at the Lakeshore High School gymnasium on Nov. 12 were opposed, including Vampire Diaries star and wildlife activist Ian Somerhalder.

With Lemons’ leadership, Abita Springs was the first public body in St. Tammany Parish to openly oppose the drilling project proposed by Helis. Since then, Lemons has been joined by the mayors of Mandeville and Covington, among others.

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