On Fracking, Let's Make Haste Slowly
There appears to be no middle ground in the court of public opinion when it comes to fracking for natural gas.
People either tout the tax revenue and new jobs created or lament the feared adverse affects on public health, drinking water and quality of life.
North Carolina has not traditionally been thought of as a gas state. But horizontal drilling and fracking have turned shale deposits throughout the world into major plays in the past decade for the extraction of natural gas. Today, fracking has landed on our doorstep because state geologists believe the Deep River basin, which extends from Granville County to northern Moore County, contains a potential 40-year supply of natural gas.
The epicenter appears to be in Lee County, which is why landowners there have turned over the mineral rights to a collective 9,400 acres, even though fracking remains illegal in North Carolina. Moore County landowners either haven’t been approached by gas companies or are more cautious than their northern neighbors, because so far there appears to be no land under contract here.
Too Many Unanswered Questions
We commend local owners for moving slowly and hope the General Assembly follows suit. Moreover, we would like to see Sen. Harris Blake, Rep. Jamie Boles and their counterparts get up to speed on fracking before moving forward. Blake and Boles admitted to not bringing any facts to a recent panel discussion on fracking before a packed house at the Southern Pines Civic Club. We share the standing-room-only crowd’s frustration with its questions going largely unanswered.
And despite their lack of knowledge, Blake and Boles voted for House Bill 242 and Senate Bill 709, both of which call for fracking studies. SB709 was vetoed by Gov. Beverly Perdue.
Here’s hoping Republicans cannot round up the required votes to override Perdue’s veto during next month’s short session. Molly Diggins of the North Carolina Sierra Club is right in calling SB709 a more “pedal-to-the-metal approach” to fracking than HB242 because “it has a presumption that we’re going to frack.”
Although HB 242 does not contain that presumption, we’re still concerned because legislators allocated a mere $100,000 for the study. No way can that amount cover the plethora of environmental, legal, regulatory, policy and other concerns, especially since fracking is exempt from most federal regulations and there is no state model to emulate.
‘Just One Chance’
For further perspective, consider the fact that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is spending $4.3 million to study just two aspects of fracking: its potential adverse impact on water quality and its effect on public health. Their final report is due in 2014, while ours must be submitted to the General Assembly by May 1.
Unfortunately, there is little scientific evidence to fill the information gap. Therefore, both the promise and peril of fracking will be hotly debated in North Carolina as the state moves closer to shale gas development.
As Geoff Gisler of the Southern Environmental Law Center said: “If we allow fracking, we’ve got one chance to get it right.” But that chance appears to be slim to none if the state doesn’t find more resources to do a proper study. Our children, grandchildren and future generations deserve no less.
More like this story