A Welcome Caution On Fracking Rules
R esidents of northern Moore County - or at least those not hoping to make a quick and maybe dirty buck by leasing out the shale deposits under their property - should find encouragement in reports coming out of the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission.
Normally, updates on the activities of such a regulatory body might be of interest primarily to those looking for bedside reading matter to put them to sleep. But these reports should be of particular interest to those hoping to preserve the qualities that make our little corner of the world so special.
The Mining and Energy Commission - a body that deals with issues that fall under the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which Pinehurst's John Skvarla was recently named to head - has been taking a close look at fracking. That's short for hydraulic fracturing, the practice of forcing chemical-laced water underground at great pressure as a means of extracting oil and natural gas that might not otherwise be accessible.
Among the Nation's Strictest?
Here's the good news, though only preliminary: Commission members, after a couple of days of meetings on the subject, are said to be coalescing around a set of fracking regulations that could be among the strictest in the nation in terms of things like water testing, wastewater disposal and disclosure of the chemicals involved.
If that were to prove true, it would be an especially pleasant surprise, coming at a time when so many attitudes emanating out of Raleigh more often seem to be of the doggedly pro-industry, anti-regulation variety.
This may be part of a general hardening of attitudes toward fracking. When it first burst on the scene not long ago, many viewed it as a godsend in terms of helping America achieve a quick and easy degree of energy independence. Attitudes in many quarters have grown more sober and realistic as some of the drawbacks and dangers of the practice have become clearer.
In the initial glow, for instance, experts were predicting that the Deep River Basin, which lies under northern Moore, contained a 40-year supply of gas at current use rates. But an assessment released last year by the U.S. Geological Survey said it was more like five years, raising new questions about whether the game was worth the candle.
Testing Would Be Expanded
Among other tightened controls, the board is apparently considering a requirement that a drilling company seeking to launch a fracking operation in a particular spot be required to first test every water source within 5,000 feet. That's nearly a mile - several times the distance required by most other states. Given average population density in northern Moore and southern Lee County, that could mean an average of a dozen well tests, at an average cost of $2,000 or so apiece.
This expanded radius seems reasonable, given the great horizontal distances that drillers can cover once they have reached the desired depths. The pre-drilling water samples would provide a good baseline against which to gauge any post-drilling environmental effects.
While fracking may hold out great promise in some situations, it also poses great dangers. In determining where and when it can take place in these parts, North Carolina needs to err on the side of prudence.
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