What if we took millions of gallons of water, combined it with a secret slurry of sand and chemicals and pumped it thousands of feet underground into shale formations (intersecting groundwater aquifers along the way). Then we could allow up to 50 percent of the contaminated water to come back to the surface, and store the remainder in poorly designed “waste pits.” We could exempt the process from the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act. And we could do it all without conducting studies on what the long-term effects of this practice might be.
At the 518th edition of Asheville Green Drinks on Aug. 20, Sally Morgan – energy and water justice researcher and organizer for Clean Water for North Carolina – argued that fracking in North Carolina would bring about the above scenario.
More than 20 community members converged on the Green Sage Café to hear Morgan’s presentation, and they seemed to agree with her. In addition to listening to the talk, audience members passed out flyers, signed petitions and distributed postcards addressed to N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory — all aimed at reinstating a ban on fracking in the state.
As recently as 2008, fracking – short for “hydraulic fracturing,” a method for extracting natural gas from shale and other once hard to access formations – was unheard of in North Carolina. As Morgan put it, “Prior to 2008, we thought the best use for groundwater was for drinking.” In that year, however, geologists outlined the presence of shale gas in North Carolina. Ever since, residents, experts, activists and politicians have debated over whether or not to allow fracking in the state.
In 2012, fracking was legalized in North Carolina – despite what Morgan called “massive opposition.” Although a moratorium was enacted until regulations could be developed, in May, state legislators passed the Energy and Modernization Act (SB 7860), which lifted the ban.
Plans were soon announced about searching for natural gas in Western North Carolina — mostly in the more western counties.
According to Morgan, fracking threatens both humans and the land. “There’s been a lot of industry denial about [the] dangers [that] fracking poses to health and to the environment, but that’s a sad fact about the nature of the oil and gas industry,” Morgan said. “There’s actually a lot of evidence.”
She provided a litany of dangers. In addition to using millions of gallons of water, Morgan said, that water would be combined with “toxic chemicals and carcinogens,” which could then leak back onto the surface. Morgan noted that officials have failed to develop a sound method for disposing of leftover waste water or a technique for dealing with seepage and spills from waste pits and cement failures in drilling wells that could contaminate groundwater. She also talked about how significant amounts of methane gas and other “fugitive emissions” could be released into the atmosphere and noted the heavy truck traffic and extensive surface disturbances that fracking caused.
Moreover, Morgan made the point that there has been almost no health monitoring to determine how fracking could affect people. She said that fracking was not subject to many federal regulations (such as the Clean Water Act) and that the long-term effects of the migration of toxic water underground had not been studied.
In addition to these problems, Morgan warned that fracking would negatively impact small-land owners. Practices such as “compulsory pooling” could force owners of small plots of land to lease their mineral rights to energy companies. “This is an issue that the [Mining and Energy Commission] has been careful not to bring up, because it is something that North Carolinians don’t like,” she said.
To justify these risks, pro-fracking advocates tend to cite the economic gain that fracking promises. Morgan, however, argued that those promises were empty. “In many cases fracking actually leaves economies weaker,” she said. She pointed to a decrease in economic diversity and an increase in the income gap that often resulted from fracking. Morgan also talked about the fact that job-creation from fracking would be minimal, said that home values in areas where fracking took place would go down and claimed that both the revenues and the product generated by oil and gas companies would not stay in North Carolina. “Energy independence is a myth. Fracking companies want to export as much as possible due to higher prices overseas,” Morgan explained.
Nevertheless, Morgan said that the MEC – the government agency responsible for developing fracking regulations – is strongly pro-fracking and wants to entice fracking companies by enacting weak regulations.
Fortunately for anti-fracking advocates, the MEC is currently in a public comment period. Those who want to express their opinion on the issue can attend a public hearing on fracking rules on Friday, Sept. 12, at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee. Other public hearings will be held in Sanford on Friday, Aug. 22, and in Reidsville on Monday, Aug. 25.
To encourage reinstatement of the fracking ban, Morgan advocated passing legal ordinances and local resolutions across North Carolina, pressuring state legislators and filing lawsuits against fracking companies.
“We have a chance to stop fracking in our state, and we need to use every means possible to do that,” she said.
Written comments can be sent to the MEC at Mining and Energy Commission; 1612 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1612. The MEC can also be emailed at Oil$Gas@NCDENR.gov (through the Public Meeting page).