Fracking debate comes to Haywood

Fracking creates friction in North Carolina
By Jessi Stone Assistant editor | Sep 01, 2014
Photo by: Jessi Stone Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, speaks to residents about fracking last week at the library.

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.

 

Proposed rules

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.

 

Comments (8)
Posted by: Evelyn M. Coltman | Sep 01, 2014 12:52

Having been a lifelong believer in environmental protection, I am dumbfounded that our legislature would look out for the energy/mining industry and place their interests above those of  its own citizens. This issue, should it come to fruition, is one that would drag me from my comfortable armchair to protest in the streets.



Posted by: Beth G. Johnson | Sep 01, 2014 13:51

It is absolutely WRONG to pass a law that forces a landowner to give up his/her mineral rights to their own land.  Regardless of a person's neighbors, a person should have control over their own property.  Write our representatives and Department of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources and demand that the fracking bill be changed or defeated.



Posted by: John C Sanderson | Sep 01, 2014 15:53

Fracking apologists argue that it is a "proven" and "safe" method of energy extraction. That is a highly questionable statement in and of itself, but it also completely ignores the fact that hydraulic fracturing (i.e., "fracking") has never been implemented on the large scale that is being proposed in this state and across the nation.

 

Many of our local politicians who voted in favor of this pell mell rush into fracking across North Carolina are now trying to distance themselves from that vote by arguing that fracking will never be used in western NC. If that is the case, then why is the NC Dept of Energy and Natural Resources (DENR) proceeding with its study to determine the feasibility of oil and natural gas extraction (by fracking) in western NC counties, including Haywood? And if fracking is something these representatives would not vote for if it would affect their constituents, then why would they vote for something that might be harmful or undesired by folks living in the piedmont or on the coastal plain. Do they not have some responsibility for acting in the best interests of the state as a whole? I find the words: "Don't worry, it won't affect any of us up here, anyway" to be less than assuring ... or ethical.

 

Any of our legislators who voted in favor of these fracking laws - e.g., to open up the process even before regulations were in place, to make divulging the chemical makeup of fracking fluids a crime, to take away from local governments the power to institute environmental regulations and standards they feel are more appropriate for their communities than state standards, to basically usurp individual mineral/property rights - need to be questioned about those votes.

 

Fracking may have a place in some sort of overall "energy extraction" strategy (although relying primarily upon extracting limited energy resources is a shortsighted and ultimately dead end strategy). But I would argue that fracking needs to be limited to areas where the environmental impacts will be minimal, and it needs to be governed by strict rules and regulations that will reduce the risks to air quality and groundwater. Furthermore, it needs to be thoroughly studied to determine its potential for environmental harm prior to any sort of large scale implementation.

 

I'll bet very few of you reading this know that the EPA has been conducting a study of fracking and its potential environmental impacts since 2011, and it has yet to offer any final determinations, although a preliminary report in 2012 suggested that fracking could very well have negative impacts on groundwater quality. After that preliminary EPA report, is it possible that partisan politics could have had anything whatsoever to do with the ongoing delay in issuing the final report? Surely not.

 

This fracking issue is simply one more example of the basic thoughtlessness and recklessness of our current legislature. They rushed through changes to the tax laws that will result in an estimated loss to the state of $5.3 BILLION over the next five years, but some of those changes are still socking it to the middle class taxpayers through expanded sales taxes and fee structures. They rushed through education "reforms" that are plainly harmful to public schools. They rushed through changes to our voting laws that will probably be litigated for years to come. They rushed to judgment on not expanding Medicaid, even though NC is losing $51 BILLION of our federal tax dollars because of that decision. And they have rushed through these fracking laws that could possibly have the greatest negative environmental impact on the greatest number of North Carolinians of any of these laws, because water is a precious commodity, and one not to be taken lightly.

November will be here soon, and the only real power that any of us possess in relation to our "representatives" is the power to replace them when they do not act in our best interests. Register to vote. Study the issues. Question the candidates about their positions. Question the incumbents about their votes. Question them about how their actions will affect you in your day-to-day lives. And don't accept lame rationalizations, weak excuses, and partisan "spin" for answers. Then vote for the candidates who best represent your own best interests.



Posted by: Joe Vescovi | Sep 02, 2014 08:11

Great comments.  Interesting NC legislatures can make a determination in a couple of months.  New York state is still, after a number of years, under a moratorium till regulations are implemented.



Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Sep 02, 2014 11:30

                  Nice to see people actually using facts and not personal opinion posing as fact, to make their point.

                  A very real problem is that "fracking" has been used for years in oil production, as I understand it. This has not come out until lately. While most property owners know better than to whiz down their own wells, oil/gas producers only want to get the product out of the ground as fast as possible and move on. In the most part the ill-effects are not known until long after the oil/gas is removed. Usually takes time for such effects to emerge. Long enough for the responsible party to have flown the coup.

                   As to jobs, in the most cases, the "frackers" don't use much local labor. They have their own trained folks for the most part.

                    WE'd be far better off investing in solar panels or wind. Sun and wind will be with US for a long time to come, hopefully. "Fracking" is only a temporary use of finite resources that may result in permanent damage.

                     Furthermore! Water moves constantly. Just as rivers/streams go up and down in size with changes in rainfall, so too does OUR watertable. Make no mistake, the water is constantly changing hands in both. A "fracking" well may not pollute those upstream, but those down stream will be susceptible. Again. Water moves constantly.

 

                       C.Z.



Posted by: Bruce and Carole Larivee | Sep 02, 2014 13:31

Don’t think we will be safe if WNC does not get fracked.  When the water is poisoned by fracking down state, guess where they will come for water.  Ask Asheville.

Mr. Sanderson, please write more.  You are quite eloquent and make facts understandable.

Carole Larivee



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Sep 02, 2014 14:49

Mrs. Larivee, you cause me to think.  If fracking is bad for the water supply, I think whatever they may do in Tennessee likely will not respect the state line.  Perhaps a good strategy would be to tip toe into this practice with eyes wide open and all the power and might of the EPA doing its due diligence. If this isn't an appropriate job for the EPA, nothing is.  So far nobody has seen harm done.  If it stays that way, I vote we allow a "proceed with caution" position.  The objective should be to find a safe way to do this.  Not-so-much to prohibit it.



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Sep 02, 2014 15:13

"don't accept lame rationalizations, weak excuses, and partisan "spin" for answers." -- Amen, brother!  Talking points are cheap.  If a politician relies on talking points, they aren't worth much.



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