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Fracking Bad Deal for North Carolina

Luis Martinez

Posted October 25, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment

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The oil and gas industry is pushing the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking , on states around the country.  In those states, many communities are losing their ability to control if and how this practice is allowed and are now forced to confront a host of potential problems with air quality, water quality and public health as drilling companies roll in. (link: http://www.nrdc.org/land/fracking-community-defense/) You’d hope the North Carolina General Assembly would know better, but last year, the General Assembly rushed to open our state to fracking too.

Now, we’re reaping the results: a process that’s influenced too heavily by the industries that want to frack North Carolina, and not enough by the communities that would be most affected. Case in point: this year, infamous oil and gas corporation Halliburton demanded changes to draft fracking regulations that would allow industry to avoid telling the public what’s in the toxic fracking fluid that would be pumped into the ground during the fracking process in North Carolina (link). And Halliburton and other polluters may get what they demanded. The draft regulations in question were to have been approved months ago, but have been mysteriously held up since the company first voiced its concerns.

Want to do so something about it?  Call them and let them know how you feel.

Here are their numbers: House of Representatives and Senate.  You can also reach Governor McCrory at 919-814-2000. 

Want to know how we got to this point?  Read on:

North Carolina’s fracking bill, passed over a year ago, became law when a veto from then Governor Purdue was overridden by a legislator who accidentally pushed the wrong button.  The law however did not allow for fracking immediately, it instead placed a moratorium on the controversial drilling practice, while a panel of so-called “experts”—the North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission, create rules that would dictate how fracking would take place in the state.  And sure enough these rules are proving to be extremely controversial:  Rules like those concerning whether citizens or even state agencies have a right to know what chemicals would be injected into their backyards by frackers; rules like those establishing how the state would deal with waste water from fracking; rules that determine whether citizens could stop these corporations from fracking in their private property; rules that will determine whether cities or counties will have any say in how/where/when fracking is done in their community.

Thankfully, for now, that moratorium on fracking is still on the books and there is still time to think this through.  Republican legislators who, all spring, had been gunning to overturn the legislation and its various parts, found themselves repeatedly short of votes at the end of the legislative session.  So for now, things like deep-well injection of dangerous waste fluids are still prohibited and the Mining and Energy Commission continues to move forward with their rulemaking. 

Yet Governor McCrory and many House and Senate Republicans have promised to keep fighting. But there’s no good reason to hurry up fracking in North Carolina. To begin with, natural gas drillers aren’t exactly beating down North Carolina’s door. The industry is actually in a bit of a tailspin, with an oversupply of shale gas that’s lowered the commodity price significantly and caused many gas producers to let their existing drilling leases lapse.  Even if there weren’t so many unanswered questions about the practice—North Carolina’s shale gas resources are minimal at best. In fact, the assistant state geologist, Kenneth Taylor, says that resource is equivalent to about five year’s worth of state natural gas use. Not exactly a motherlode.  

And the more North Carolinians learn about it, the less they want fracking to take place in the state.  A poll we did in earlier in the year showed that a majority of North Carolinians were opposed to the practice of fracking. It’s easy to see why.

 Just a couple of months ago, Duke University researchers found that in private water wells near fracking operations in the Marcellus Shale basin in Pennsylvania, methane concentrations are six times higher and ethane concentrations are 23 times as high as in more distant wells. (Ethane is another natural gas component.) Propane was found in 10 of the 141 samples tested, all from wells within 1 kilometer of drilling sites. “Distance to gas wells was, by far, the most significant factor influencing gases in the drinking water we sampled,” said Duke Professor Robert Jackson.  

 Also a couple of months ago, leaked EPA documents showed that Agency staff believed that methane that seeped into water wells in Dimock, Pennsylvania as a result of shoddy fracking-related gas production caused significant contamination.  And just a few weeks ago, a team from Duke University presented a study showing that “treated” waste-water from fracking operations being discharged into creeks and streams in Pennsylvania had made those bodies of water highly radioactive.  “Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection collected sediment samples from inside the discharge pipe at the site and found radium-226 levels some 44 times higher than drinking-water standards allow. Several tens of yards downstream, levels were 66 times higher than standards allow. Radium-226 has a half-life of 1,600 years.” (link)  Researchers also found levels of barium, benzene, strontium, chlorides and other contaminants that exceeded state and federal water quality standards.

To make matters worse, natural gas companies claim that the names of the chemicals they use to break up shale in the fracking process are proprietary, but these chemicals are known to include carcinogenic substances such as benzene as well as other toxic compounds such as ethylene glycol, methanol and naphthalene.  Now those very companies are coming to North Carolina and secretly asking for changes to our chemical disclosure rules to keep that information from the public. 

Finally, we now have our very own North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources sending back grant money it requested and received from the federal government to do baseline fracking testing of water quality in the areas that could be affected.  Without proper testing, the public will have a difficult time proving that the streams and creeks they use and enjoy were not radioactive or contaminated before the area was fracked.

Meanwhile communities around the country are reporting a wide range of impacts, from contaminated drinking water supplies, to truck traffic clogging country roads, devastated property values and even exploding homes.  

Given all of this, North Carolina shouldn’t risk our precious water resources. From around the country, companies are moving to North Carolina and creating much-needed jobs for these water resources alone. Consider just one example: the brewing industry. Already, craft beer makers Sierra Nevada, New Belgium and Oskar Blues have picked North Carolina when they decided to expand their operations because of the quality and plentitude of our water.  Numerous other companies are coming to North Carolina attracted by the beauty of the state and the great quality of life here.  In many places around the country impacted by climate change, the reality and the prospect of drought looms large. In North Carolina, we have been lucky to be spared. “Water is the new gold,” state Representative Rick Catlin, a first-term Republican and hydrogeologist, told Stateline. “Why would we want to ruin that resource?”

Why indeed?

So if you want to know what exactly are these frackers are going to inject into our ground, if you want to be able to tell these companies that they cannot frack in your private property, if you want your city and/or county to be able to have some say how fracking takes place in your community or even you just want the legislature NOT to fast-track fracking, you will NEED to tell you state Senator and Representative.

Here are their numbers: House of Representatives and Senate

And please also let Governor McCrory know.  You can reach him at 919-814-2000. 

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Comments

Deb ArnasonOct 28 2013 03:55 PM

I completely agree and have been working with others to oppose any form of the devastating hydraulic fracking that Halliburton developed to pollute and defile many states. McCrory was elected with frack money backing and he and his legislative cronies are paying back their big money donors. Many are members of the secretive bill mill ALEC which actually writes the laws and hobnobs with fracketeers while doing so. Very frustrating. Recalls and impeachment should be the order of the day!

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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