Shale Possibilities: Proceed Cautiously
The possibility that untold riches in oil and gas may lie in shale deposits under northern Moore County, as reported Sunday, is a potentially exciting one.
But before any test wells are sunk, before we start forcing untold volumes of precious water under pressure to shatter shale beds and release any gas trapped there — if any gas there be — we need to proceed with extreme caution. Among other things, we need new laws to make sure that this potential new form of energy to light our lights and heat our homes doesn’t also devastate the natural environment.
There are concerns about the process called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Critics worry that forcing liquid deep below the surface can pollute underground fresh water sources or contaminate water supplies closer to the top.
It has already happened. In the fall of 2009, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection shut down some operations of natural gas driller Cabot Oil & Gas after the company spilled 8,000 gallons of toxic chemicals on the ground and into a Susquehanna County creek. The company said a fracking hose had ruptured.
Strict Regulations Needed
More than four out of every five mine wells drilled in the nation today use some kind of “fracking” — the method that would be used for testing and production in our area. While that process has been in use for decades, there are undoubtedly things to worry about.
Cabot was previously cited for contaminating drinking water wells near its drill sites. Drilling by another company in Ohio led to a buildup of methane bubbling up water wells. One house exploded. Neighbors had to evacuate their homes.
Before we can feel good about it, the industry needs to clean up after itself and do a better job of recovering “fracking” fluids and reclaiming chemicals like hydrochloric acid, solvents, lubricants, corrosion inhibitors, germicides, and other ingredients mixed with the water and sand. Nobody wants to drink that stuff.
The 41-page law drafted for Fort Worth by former Moore Countian Sarah Fullenwider is an example of the kind of thought members of our General Assembly ought to bring to the question. Our state geologists are hopeful, and their hopes are encouraging — but careful note needs to be taken and strict regulations put in place.
Lots of Groundwork First
There are honorable companies that have long histories in mining and actually mean to mine their leaseholds. Without wildcatters — miners who take the risk and expense of drilling test wells — nothing will happen. But there are also speculators abroad in the land. People could tie up their mineral rights and see nothing aside from getting locked out of the game. Beware checks in the mail with fine print on the back. Endorsing one could mean you’ve sold away the fortune beneath your feet.
This is a time for both hope and caution.
First our legislature must enact well-thought-out regulations based on environmental impact studies before making horizontal and hydrofracture-based test wells legal in North Carolina under well-supervised conditions. Until all that happens, nobody can even know what’s really down there.
Natural gas in the ground is, for the time being, pie in the sky.
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