Fracking fears in Dan River basin

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ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, N.C. -- Even as he shovels load after load of black, sticky muck off of his boat ramp, Glenn Bozorth has time to admire the Dan River's beauty.

"People don't realize it, but the Dan River is pretty pristine," Bozorth said.

He would know. He's been operating Dan River Adventures out of Rockingham County for years. He estimates he puts thousands of people in the river every summer, and his business depends on a clean river to keep those customers coming back for more.

That's why Bozorth is so opposed to hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking. The process uses toxic chemicals, sand and water at high pressures to break up shale rock and allow natural gas to escape. That natural gas can then be taken out of the ground and sold for profit.

Gas exploration companies assert that fracking is safe. Bozorth doesn't trust it.

"I think they would say anything to do what they want to do," he said with a shake of his head. "Common sense tells you if they're going to drill through there and put toxic chemicals through there, it's going to pollute your water."

Now the North Carolina Department of Energy and Natrural Resources is siding with gas companies. The DENR did a study on fracking and concluded, with the right regulations, the process would be safe for areas in Moore, Lee, and Chatham Counties, as well as the Dan River Basin, which includes parts of Stokes and Rockingham Counties.

Republican President Pro Tem of the North Carolina state senate Phil Berger represents Rockingham County. He said he'd vote to repeal a 1945 law that makes fracking illegal if he was 100 percent certain regulators would have to power to make sure no pollution occurred.

"We want to make sure it's done in an environmentally safe manner, but we also don't want to ignore the very real economic benefits that result from exploration and extraction of our shale gas resources," Berger said over the phone.

He also noted that no one in the state capitol is rushing to make fracking happen before every bit of the regulatory structure has been created.

"We're not talking about something that's going to happen next week next month or even next year," Berger said.

The state legislature could vote on a bill to create that regulatory structure as early as May, but natural gas exploration and extraction would not begin until 2014 at the earliest.

Back on the Dan River, Glenn Bozorth scoops another pile of black goop off of his boat ramp. It all ended up there when weekend rains caused the river to rise about 20 feet. This and the occasional waste from wildlife is all he's really ready to clean up.

His John Deere would be no match for chemical pollution flowing freely into the river.

"If there's any percent chance at all that they could pollute ground water at all, why would they even consider doing it? It makes no sense at all," Bozorth said.