Is Senate moving too fast on allowing fracking in NC?

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Enough shale-gas reserves may lie beneath North Carolina’s surface to feed the state’s demand for natural gas for more than five years, according to a state environmental agency’s estimate based on 2010 data.

Last week, in line to fire the starter’s pistol on fracking, the drilling method used to extract shale gas, were state Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, and other Republican state lawmakers, including Sens. Joyce Krawiec of Kernersville and Andrew Brock of Davie County. In the Senate, they helped sponsor a bill — the Energy Modernization Act — that would allow fracking to start as early as next summer.

“I would urge that the members of the Senate support this effort as we move closer to energy independence for North Carolina, economic growth and job creation. That is part of what this bill does. It is one tool in the quiver that we are making North Carolina the premier economy in the entire country,” Rucho said, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

Opponents of the bill cautioned that many questions remain about the impact that fracking may have on public health and the environment. They questioned why the Senate would pass the Energy Modernization Act because it would allow fracking to start before a full legislative review of proposed rules on fracking operations being drafted by the state Mining and Energy Commission (MEC).

Those rules have come under greater scrutiny as reports of fracking’s impact are revealed from other states. In Ohio last month, state officials have linked fracking with earthquakes. In Texas, a couple recently won a lawsuit claiming that pollution from fracking made them ill. In North Carolina, one of the main concerns raised by conservationists is that the proposed MEC rules do not fully deal with the massive amounts of wastewater that will surely come from fracking operations.

Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, voted against the bill.

“The consideration on this bill ought to be about ensuring that we’re going to have clean drinking water in this state. And there’s no precautions that we can take that are unreasonable when it comes to making sure that we do have clean drinking water in this state. … We have to be very careful that we don’t do anything that’s going to harm the water supply,” Blue said.

The bill passed in a third, final vote of 36-11 and could be taken up by the House as early as this week.

Consequences of fracking

Fracking — short for hydraulic fracturing — is a drilling method that uses extremely high pressure to inject a concoction of water, sand and chemicals thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface to dislodge natural gas from shale rock.

Once the fracking creates cracks, the gas moves to the surface.

Fracking has helped spur an energy boom by freeing enormous reserves of natural gas, and the work has generated jobs and profits. Still, fracking operations have been linked to groundwater contamination, air pollution, heavy truck traffic and the release of spent fluid, or “flowback.” Some of the chemicals in the flowback include acids, polyacrylamide (reduces friction) and glutaraldehyde (disinfectant). Concerns about the environmental and public health concerns have been buttressed by documented cases of fracking’s impact in other states.

In Ohio, for the first time, geologists linked earthquakes in a geologic formation deep under the Appalachians to fracking. A state investigation of five small tremors in March in the Youngstown area, in the Appalachian foothills, found the injection of sand and water that accompanies fracking in the Utica Shale may have increased pressure on a small, unknown fault, according to state officials.

In Texas, a couple got $3 million in damages from the gas drilling company Aruba Petroleum, the Dallas Morning News reported last month. Spills and emissions from the company’s fracking operations contaminated their ranch, and the pollution made the couple sick, as well as their pets and livestock, the newspaper reported. Ailments included asthma, nausea, nose bleeds, ear ringing and depression.

As North Carolina has headed toward shale-gas exploration, state lawmakers have said that they would maintain a moratorium on fracking until they could review proposed environmental rules being drafted by the MEC, something which the Senate-approved bill would override, opponents stress.

“Senators are breaking the promise they made in 2012: to consider lifting our moratorium only after all the questions are answered, and rules have been developed,” said Elizabeth Ouzts, the state director of the nonprofit advocacy group Environment North Carolina.

Wastewater is a big concern

Conservationists say it is all the more important that North Carolina get its rules set before fracking begins. The drilling method is largely unregulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and reductions in manpower are already straining the ability of N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to regulate industry.

One of the issues that must be dealt with is what to do with the waste, according to conservationists.

Grady McCallie, the policy director at N.C. Conservation Network, said that while DENR and state lawmakers deserve some credit for opposing the waste-management method of injecting wastewater into the ground, neither the Energy Modernization Act nor the proposed MEC rules deal sufficiently with the large volumes of wastewater that will come from fracking.

Several options have been used in other states besides underground injection: wastewater treatment facilities; trucking the waste to storage in underground pits or above-ground tanks; recycling in other fracking operations; and disbursing treated fluids on vegetation or spraying it on roads, a practice known as road-spreading.

In a 484-page report released by DENR in 2012, the state environmental agency points out the potential uses and flaws. For example, recycling may be effective in other states, but it is not a good fit for North Carolina because of the proximity between water supplies and shale reserves, the report says.

“By contrast (to other states), water supply wells up to 1,000 feet deep have been found in North Carolina’s Triassic Basins, and the depth to saline water, if present at all, is unknown. Additionally, in some areas, the shale that might be tapped for natural gas in the Triassic Basins of North Carolina lies at depths of 3,000 feet or less. These factors all point to a much greater potential for contamination of a future potential water supply,” the report says.

Road-spreading would not be a good fit, either, the reports says.

“Unlike many western states where ‘road-spreading’ of wastewater is allowed, North Carolina has a large network of streams and wetlands; road drainage features would in many instances direct the wastewater to surface waters,” the report says.

One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Krawiec, the state senator whose district includes Yadkin County and parts of Forsyth, said that rules for waste-management practices were being hammered out by the MEC.

“It will be monitored closely and is regulated by MEC rules,” Krawiec said, referring to waste from fracking.

Large gas reserves in N.C.

On the sidelines sits an oil and gas industry ready to drill.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed $21 billion 2014-15 budget includes money for shale-gas surveys that would be done through a public-private consortium, with industry stakeholders picking up most of the overall cost of about $3 million, according to state budget officials.

Art Pope, the budget director, said in an interview two weeks ago that $500,000 has been allotted to drill in areas believed to have deposits of shale gas reserves. Tests would be done to fine-tune the state’s current estimates of reserves, he said, stressing that the proposed drill sites would not be used for fracking.

Current estimates suggest that in the Deep River Basin, an area that runs about 150 miles from Granville County southwestward to South Carolina, there are an estimated 1.66 trillion cubic feet of gas and 83 million barrels of natural gas liquids – the source for more than five years of natural-gas use based on 2010 data, according to DENR.

Chatham, Lee and Moore counties likely have the largest reserves of shale gas, according to state and federal geologists, but some reserves may also exist in Stokes County. Current estimates suggest that for the Dan River-Danville Basin, which includes Stokes, there are 49 billion cubic feet of gas but no natural gas liquids.


  • Monica Davis

    This is HIGHLY suspicious due to the rush to push fracking especially when companies refuse to disclose what chemicals are used in the process, the push for a North Carolina law to make it a felony (yes, a felony) for anyone to tell what the chemicals are, the growing amount of lawsuits in other states due to fracking, and that many other countries demand to know what is being injected into the earth and do not allow the use of any toxic substances in the fracking process. Also, I would like to see publication of the notes from the secret meeting when the NC committee met with Halliburton to discuss fracking in NC.

  • Patricia Gonzales

    Yes, there maybe enough gas for 5 plus years. But the damage that will be done will be for ever. It cannot be undone. It’s just like if you pull the trigger on a gun, YOU can wish the bullet back it’s not going to happen. North Carolina will be DESTROYED. They are saying it will bring jobs, okay, how many people know anything about the process of Hydraulic Fracturing ( Fracking)? 1 out of a 1000, they will bring their own workers, sure it will put money in the economy through restaurants, hotels, bars, also the Crime will go way up. Once they start drilling they have to get rid of the fluids coming out with all the poison in it, they’ll have to DUMP it somewhere, the big question is WHERE? Do you know they are planning on putting it within 10 miles of Sharon Harris Nuclear Plant? Are you ready to have your family sick or dying from contaminated water? Of course they will arrest anyone disclosing all the chemicals they will be using. Come on People it’s POISON, HAZZARDOUS CHEMICALS. If I were to offer you a choice of a glass of clean fresh water, or a glass of water with poison in it which would you choose? Fracking will not only effect Lee County, and a few others it will effect ALL OF NORTH CAROLINA. Are you ready for that, I sure as heck am not.

    • Alex

      I’ve been in almost all parts of the pull industry from operating wells, drilling wells, designing and installing production in the well and yes even in the hydraulic fracturing. Take it from me you know absolutely nothing about this process. They don’t just “dump” the water. Please educate yourself better on this process.

  • InventorNC

    I see that all the scientists and engineers are out in force with their opinions. How about banning water wells?

    If the sand and water and hoochi goochi juice sent to the fracking site a mile below the surface is a secret how come these Park Avenue arts majors say it is secret and dangerous?.

    Fracking is many many decades old. It has produced amazingly good results so please stop the complaining. Total ignorance is no excuse.

    • Patricia Gonzales

      At least with ignorance, teaching can cure it, but you can’t un-teach STUPIDTY! Just wondering why you chose to hide your identity? Never mind I can pretty well guess why!

  • Interesting...

    Fracking is this decade’s “Nuclear Power Plants”….Very similar parallels between the two.

  • Alex

    Seems like most of you don’t really know about fracking. Wells would be drilled regardless and there is a lot less being drilled because of the ability to drill horizontally for thousands of feet with less impact on the surface. You should come out and spend some time in the field and learn about the process, instead of just reading what some people that consider themselves experts that have never been around a frac a day in their life. If you are worried about it contaminating water that you drink then you really don’t know what you are talking about at all. 100 years cleaning up the mess? Try as soon as rig equipment and frac pump trucks are off location and all the work is done all of the land is replaced and fertilized so they can return it as it was before. You are more apt to issues during the drilling process then you ever are with pipe and cemented casing. Fracking isn’t anywhere near the surface or water table and in most cases is usually done in a the lateral portion of the well thousands of feet below any source of water with a near impossible chance of contamination rising to the surface. This is 2014 we have technology that purifies water, cleaner then what they pulled out of the river and you can actually drink it, don’t see most people drinking river water because of the cow shit and garbage that’s already in it. Definitely will last longer than 5 years, the drilling and fracking portion might slow down after 5 years but the disposal and operating of the well can last up to 30 years. Please educate yourself before you try to argue against something you know nothing about, that can have a positive impact on our country.

    • Alex

      It has nothing to do with chemicals, but has everything to do with trade secrets. It’s like coke they have secrets that work that they don’t want anyone else knowing or doing. Try asking coke for their recipe, you won’t get it either.

      • Patricia G.

        Sorry Alex, but Coke, SOLD their secrets to Mexico, and other countries, Coke’s mistake they SOLD the only recipe they had, that’s why Coke has NEVER been the same since. THEY don’t have the recipe any longer, if you want the REAL COKE, you have to buy it from Mexico or some other country they sold it to.

      • Alex

        Coke changed their recipe years ago and many people didn’t like it so it was changed back to the original non cocaine formula and the last and most recent change was so they wouldn’t have to put can cause cancer. But their is only 2 people that know coca cola secret even though people on ebay try to sell what they think is the original recipe. Again showing you do not read and study about your arguments, I actually had just watched a documentary on coca cola a couple days before is why it came to mind and seeing as I’m on a drilling rig I get bored so I read up on it. Unless you can provide something that says otherwise.

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