Final Fracking Report Draws Criticism
The final fracking report “provides even more evidence” of how much work remains before North Carolina lawmakers can decide whether to legalize the controversial method of natural gas extraction, critics say.
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) submitted the report to the General Assembly on Tuesday.
DENR said hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — “can be done safely” only if lawmakers adopt state-specific regulatory standards and invest “sufficient resources” in compliance and enforcement prior to issuing any drilling permits.
The report also notes the need for additional research on North Carolina’s geology and hydrology to identify conditions under which fracking can be done without risking water resources.
The report, and any subsequent legislation, is important to northern Moore County, which lies atop the Deep River Basin, where state geologists believe a 40-year supply of natural gas exists.
Fracking is illegal in North Carolina — for now. But legislation passed last year by the General Assembly authorized the study and moved the state closer to shale gas development.
“It’s important to distinguish between regulatory programs that must be developed, and critical unanswered questions that require further study. It is our position that these studies should be done before the state decides to legalize fracking,” said Will Morgan, director of government relations for the N.C. Sierra Club. “The final DENR study provides even more evidence of how much work there is to be done before N.C. has enough information to make a decision about fracking.”
DENR lists a number of specific recommendations, including protective measures that should be in place before legislators change state law.
But Morgan believes that a bill recently introduced by state Sen. Bob Rucho, a Mecklenburg County Republican, fails to adhere to many of the recommendations.
“Instead, it puts the decision to legalize fracking ahead of the development of environmental protections,” Morgan said.
The Clean Energy and Economic Security Act also contrasts sharply with a more conservative approach outlined last March by a bipartisan trio of House members.
“There’s got to be a compromise in there somewhere,” said state Rep. Jamie Boles, a Republican who represents most of Moore County. “But all of this has taken a back seat because we’re trying to put together a budget for 2012-2013.”
Hope Taylor, executive director of Clean Water for North Carolina, said she would be happy if the fracking process came “to a screeching halt.”
“Let’s stop this nonsense until we have evidence that there would be significant statewide benefits from extracting natural gas here, and we have more information about the public health, economic and environmental impacts,” Taylor said.
DENR issued a draft report in March and then conducted three public hearings to seek feedback. But Taylor saw little difference between the draft and final versions.
“There is some more precautionary language in the final version,” she said. “There is so much talk about lack of knowledge and regulatory authority. But, frankly, they abdicate the responsibility to fill in the gaps in many instances.
“We don’t think it’s changed all that much.”
The state study estimates that fracking in the Deep River Basin would sustain an average of 387 jobs per year during the first seven years of production, and would boost North Carolina’s economy by $453 million at the completion of all drilling in the state.
Taylor called those numbers “insignificant.”
“It’s really disingenuous to call this a job-creation bill because most of those workers will come from other states,” she said. “Even in the peak year of a seven-year boom and bust cycle, the 800-some projected jobs would be about the same as opening three grocery stores, which would have a whole lot less regulatory costs and impacts on communities.”
Importantly, the report also points out that low natural gas prices now make production in North Carolina “unlikely in the near-term.”
“Low prices make it less likely that the industry will move from areas already in production to a new and unproven area,” the report said.
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or email@example.com
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