Fracking debate comes to HaywoodFracking creates friction in North Carolina
Since Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill into law back in May that allows fracking in North Carolina, politicians and residents have been debating whether the benefits would outweigh the risks.
Supporters argue that lifting the fracking moratorium will create jobs and make the state more energy independent, but opposition says the small amount of natural gas in North Carolina is not worth potentially damaging precious natural resources for years to come.
A representative from the Clean Water for North Carolina spoke to about 20 Haywood County residents at the Waynesville Library on Wednesday to discuss the issue of fracking in North Carolina.
Sally Morgan, energy and water justice researcher for CWFNC, explained what hydraulic fracturing is and the dangers it could pose if the process of extracting oil and natural gas is used in North Carolina.
What is fracking?
Fracking involves drilling thousands of feet down into layers of rock. Fluids are then injected into the rock and move horizontally underground to break up shale formations to loosen and extract any natural gas.
“They inject sand, water and unknown chemicals into the rock to let the gas escape,” Morgan said, adding that one fracturing uses millions of gallons of pure water.
Not only does the process use up a vast amount of fresh water, Morgan said 30 to 50 percent of the flow-back water contains those chemicals that could be toxic to the groundwater supply.
Fracking in North Carolina
In 2012, Senate Bill 820 legalized fracking but kept a moratorium on permitting until rules and regulation could be developed and passed by the legislature. The newly formed Mining and Energy Commission (MEC) has since developed more than 120 rules, but the legislature passed Senate Bill 786 lifting the moratorium during this year’s short session before the rules were approved.
Morgan said the proposed rules were not strict enough. North Carolina’s proposed regulations are extremely important given that the industry is exempt from the federal Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act under the Energy Policy Act of 2005. This act is commonly called the "Halliburton loophole" since then Vice President Dick Cheney chaired the Energy Policy Task Force at the time.
“The regulations don’t deal with long-term contamination, protections for landowners, toxic air emissions or safe wastewater disposal,” she said. “Funding for inspections and enforcement is drastically low.”
Another big concern is compulsory pooling, in which a landowner can be forced to sell their mineral extraction rights for fracking if the gas company has already obtained the rights from the surrounding owners with the most land. For example, if three landowners with large parcels sell their rights, the surrounding homeowners with one acre could be forced to sell their rights.
Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, also attended the informational meeting and said he voted against the bill.
“The governor is saying it’s about energy independence, but that’s a complete lie,” he said. “This is not a step forward, it’s a step backward for North Carolina. Solar tax credits would be a step forward and that’s what we’re doing.”
He encouraged those in attendance to make their voiced heard at the ballot box this November and vote out their legislators who voted in favor of the bill.
Morgan said the estimated natural gas in North Carolina would only be enough for the state to be energy self-sufficient for five years at the most, and the U.S. Department of Commerce estimates the new industry would create about 380 jobs in the state for up to seven years. Queen said those workers would probably be brought in and then they would leave when the job is over.
He said that wasn’t enough gas to risk the chance of contaminating the water supply when so much of the state’s industry relies on it, including recreational jobs, the trout industry and companies that sell water.
Morgan said geologists don't think there is much potential for natural gas in Western North Carolina, but there is a $12,000 study moving forward to test rock areas around the seven most western counties. While she isn't too concerned about tracking in this region, she said permitting for fracking in North Carolina is expected to begin mid 2015.
Problems with fracking bill
Morgan said the fracking bill passed this year didn’t address the compulsory pooling issue, wastewater disposal, air emissions, remedies for long-term contamination or oversight of gathering lines.
Since the state doesn’t have any pre-treatment or discharge standards for fracking wastewater, the drafted fracking rules would allow a facility to treat and discharge fracking wastes to water surfaces.
Morgan said SB 820 instructed the Environmental Management Commission to create rules to control toxic air emissions from fracking operations because studies have shown the emissions to make people sick in other states.
However, the EMC has suggested only relying on federal protections. Morgan said wildcat and exploratory wells, like the ones that would probably be used in North Carolina, are specifically exempt from those federal laws.
Because North Carolina has very little natural gas, Morgan said the MEC was creating very lenient rules in order to convince the industry to come to the state. The proposed setback rule states that drilling has to be 650 feet away from occupied buildings, but Morgan said it should be at least 1,500 feet.
Under the proposed rules, companies don’t have to disclose the chemicals they use during the fracking process because it is considered a trade secret. Morgan said the public needed to fight for those chemicals to be disclosed because they will be pumped into the ground.
Morgan also suggested that the companies need to be required to pay for water testing supplies, groundwater should be monitored for 10 years after drilling, all wastewater should be contained in enclosed tanks instead of open pits and violations should require a substantial fine.
Voice your opinion
Residents will have a chance to provide public input on the proposed rules at an upcoming public hearing from 5 to 9 p.m. Sept. 12 at Western Carolina University’s Liston B. Ramsey Regional Activity Center, 92 Catamount Road, Cullowhee.
Those who intend to speak can register at 4 p.m. This will be the public’s fourth and final opportunity to comment on the draft rules. In addition to the public hearings, the commission has set a Sept. 30 deadline for people to comment in writing on the proposed rules. Written public comments are also being accepted at the hearings.
Hard copy written comments should be sent to:
DENR-Division of Energy, Mineral, and Land Resources
Attn: Oil and Gas Program
1612 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1612
Written comments may also be submitted electronically through the state Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources’ website at www.ncdenr.org.