Still Not the Last Word on Fracking
Though it was called "the final report" on fracking in North Carolina, let's not allow it to be the last word.
We're talking about the paper that the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) sent to the General Assembly the other day with regard to hydraulic fracturing, the controversial method of extracting natural gas from deep underground. It responded to some concerns but left too many others unaddressed.
The report purports to give the legislature all the background information it needs as it ponders whether to legalize the procedure. It offers the conclusion that fracking "can be done safely" if the lawmakers put enough tailor-made standards in place and sink "sufficient resources" into setting up an adequate regulatory system.
But one still wonders whether even this preliminary investment is a wise one, especially at a time when so many other needs cry out for funding.
Landowners Justifiably Cautious
Fracking involves pumping millions of gallons of water deep underground. Much of that water has to be trucked in, with accompanying damage to fragile country roads. Because of the presence of certain shale deposits in the Deep River Basin covering parts of Lee, Moore and Chatham counties, any discussing of prospects for fracking in North Carolina have focused there.
Most of the mineral-rights leases that landowners have already signed with gas companies are in Lee - totaling about 9,000 acres so far. Those leases were signed mostly in the year 2010, when company representatives began appearing like vultures, and some of those leases will begin expiring as early as next year.
In the initial rush, some people clearly signed up without knowing what they were getting into. Since then, nonprofit groups have conducted workshops throughout the affected area to educate property owners. At least partly as a result of that, residents in upper Moore appear to be taking an extremely cautious approach, with few or no signings so far. And that caution would appear to be well-justified.
A Colossal Gamble
Most fracking so far has taken place in states with a history of oil drilling, and plenty of alarms have been sounded. But it could be even worse here. Our soil is different. And our gas is said to be about 3,000 feet down, as opposed to 10,000 in, say, Pennsylvania, meaning it's much closer to our water table.
Supporters have thrown some impressive figures around, but some of them may be bogus. The new state study estimates that fracking in our region would sustain an average of 387 jobs per year during first seven years of production; that the operation would boost the economy of North Carolina as a whole by $453 million by the completion of all drilling in state; and that it would meet the state's natural gas needs for 30 years.
But most of those jobs would probably be filled by outsiders who would flock to our area and strain our infrastructure for a few years before disappearing in search of new work. The money wouldn't necessarily stay here, either. And neither would the gas itself, which would be sold on the global market.
In short, the whole thing is looking like a colossal gamble, with no assurances of positive results. That's why we should be going slow - if at all.
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