Concerns Aired on Fracking
Sunday, July 31, 2011
Legislators told a packed house at the Southern Pines Civic Club Thursday night that fracking will be studied thoroughly before the state allows the controversial method of extracting natural gas.
Sen. Harris Blake, Rep. Jamie Boles and Rep. Mike Stone spent the better part of two hours trying to assuage the fears of about 130 concerned residents during a question-and-answer panel discussion of the issue sponsored by Save Our Sandhills, a nonprofit environmental group.
“We are either going to have the best fracking law in the country or the best reason not to do it,” said Stone, a Lee County Republican who helped draft the legislation that enabled the study. “Right now, no one in Raleigh is an expert on drilling for natural gas.”
In a nutshell, opponents point to dangers they say fracking poses to drinking water supplies, public health and the global climate. The gas industry, on the other hand, insists that fracking is safe.
The N.C. study will be conducted by the state Department of Environ-ment and Natural Resourc-es, the state Department of Commerce and the state Department of Justice, and must be submitted to the General Assembly by May 1. It will include analysis of potential economic impacts, environmental impacts, social impacts, consumer protection, and potential oversight and administrative issues, among other things.
A natural gas drilling boom has swept the country in the past decade, thanks to fracking, which occurs after a gas company has drilled vertically and horizontally. The process then uses high-pressure fluids, including toxic chemicals, to open up fractures in gas-bearing geological formations, allowing the gas to escape and be captured.
The North Carolina Geological Survey has studied 59,000 acres in the Deep River basin and determined that Moore, Lee and Chatham counties could produce enough natural gas from shale to meet the state’s current level of energy demand for 40 years. The natural gas is closest to the surface in Lee County, which is where gas companies are focusing their efforts to secure mineral rights leases.
Jordan Treakle, a mineral rights coordinator for Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA in Pittsboro, said rural landowners and farmers in North Carolina shale-bearing counties are not well- informed of the potential risks of fracking, and gas companies are not providing objective information about the benefits and drawbacks.
“There are a lot of predatory contracts out there,” Treakle said. “So far, landowners in Lee County have signed mineral rights leases covering a collective 9,400 acres. There are no mineral rights leases on the books in Moore County, but that doesn’t mean leases haven’t been signed because there is no timetable for recording them.”
Fracking is a global issue, and France last month became the first country to totally ban the practice. But the issue has been virtually moot in North Carolina because horizontal drilling is not allowed under the 1945 Oil and Gas Conservation Act.
“Right now, we have a safety blanket that other states don’t have,” said Geoff Gisler, a staff attorney for Southern Environ-mental Law Center. “If we allow fracking, we’ve got one chance to do it right.”
Although House Bill 242 does not legalize fracking, it moves the state closer to shale gas development and creates a two-year debate on how to proceed.
“There is a lot to look into and that’s why we’re proceeding cautiously,” Boles said. “You have to look at everything, every hypothetical.”
Added Stone, “Our bill is called the ‘Go Slow’ bill because there are a lot of questions and very few answers.”
Boles and Blake admitted to the standing-room-only crowd that they didn’t bring a lot of facts to the panel discussion because they don’t have them, which is why the study is so important.
“I am so pro-business I may seem like I’m getting a little ahead of the safe way to do business,” Blake said. “We are talking about a very important product that can be found in Moore County. We had to pass the legislation to get started.
“I guarantee you that the issue will be debated to death. I just don’t see the problem yet. But we’ve got to do it safely or we won’t do it.”
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at email@example.com.