In case there isn't enough negative publicity surrounding fracking, left-leaning nonprofit Environment North Carolina released its own report on the controversial drilling practice Thursday, dubbing the drilling an "environmental nightmare."
"In state after state, fracking polluted our air, water and landscapes," said Liz Kazal, a field associate for the Raleigh-based nonprofit. "If fracking is allowed in North Carolina, this is the kind of damage in store for waters like the Deep River."
The drilling, viewed as an economic boon by proponents despite its speculative job-creating numbers, has been dogged by claims that it's responsible for water and air pollution, as well as increased seismic activity. See a recent report that fracking wastewater is to blame for earthquakes in one Ohio town.
Environment North Carolina, which has long opposed the drilling, describes the report from its Research and Policy Center as the "first of its kind to measure the footprint of fracking damage nationally to date—including toxic wastewater, water use, chemical use, air pollution, land damage and global warming emissions."
Among the report's claims, the nonprofit says fracking is to blame for:
1. 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater in 2012
2. 450,000 tons of air pollution produced in one year
3. 250 billion gallons of fresh water used since 2005
4. 360,000 acres of land "degraded" since 2005
5. 100 million metric tons of global warming pollution.
Download Environment North Carolina's full report, which reads like a Stephen King novel for environmentalists, here.
State officials are currently crafting regulations for drilling in North Carolina, which could begin as soon as 2015.Sen. Mike Woodard, a Durham Democrat, gets in on the frack-bashing in Environment North Carolina's release. "The dangers detailed in this report reiterate that a few short months of energy are simply not worth jeopardizing our water, our air and our rural landscapes," Woodard said. "In short, fracking is a bad deal for Durham and for North Carolina."
Official estimates say North Carolina has enough gas to power the state for about five years. Drilling is most likely to take place in central portions of the state such as Chatham, Lee and Moore counties.
Check back with Indy Week for pending reactions from drilling supporters and opponents.
Major news for frack-followers: A Duke University study published this week finds homeowners living near fracking wells may be at an elevated risk of drinking water contamination.
The study, performed by researchers at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment, analyzed 141 drinking water samples from water wells in northeastern Pennsylvania, prime fracking country.
According to the study, methane concentrations were six times higher and ethane concentrations were 23 times higher at homes within a kilometer of shale gas operations. Propane was found in 10 samples, all of them within a kilometer of fracking sites.
Robert Jackson, a study co-author and Nicholas School professor, suggested in a school statement that "poor well construction" may be to blame for the contamination.
“Distance to gas wells was, by far, the most significant factor influencing gases in the drinking water we sampled,” Jackson said.
While a previous Nicholas School study has found methane contamination near fracking wells, the new study is the first to link drilling with ethane and propane contamination, according to the statement.
All three gases are considered to be flammable with a risk of explosions. Methane is generally thought to be non-toxic, although propane and ethane can pose health risks, such as asphyxiation, in high concentrations.
The study is released as North Carolina lawmakers continue to debate the contents of Senate Bill 76, a bill that may ultimately authorize the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to begin issuing fracking permits in March 2015.
Sen. E.S. "Buck" Newton, a Republican from Johnston, Nash and Wilson counties who co-sponsored the bill, said the drilling has the potential to create thousands of jobs and billions in revenues (for more on those expectations, see here).
"Do we want to sit around and twiddle our thumbs for another 15 to 20 years and do nothing when other states have been doing it for decades safely?" Newton said.
The practice is seen as an economic driver by proponents, but critics point to numerous reports of environmental contamination associated with drilling across the country.
The original Senate legislation authorized the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to issue fracking permits starting March 1, 2015, although the House version approved Thursday morning requires another vote from the N.C. General Assembly for the permits to become valid.
The House version also strips language allowing for the injection of fracking waste underground and would retain a state registry of landmen. As reported recently in INDY Week, the Senate bill's sponsors received significant campaign contributions from energy interests.
Committee Democrats questioned whether the state would be allowing permits to be issued before fracking regulations are finalized. Newton, however, called the March 2015 deadline "more than adequate time" to finish the rule-making process, which is ongoing in the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission. The commission has an October 2014 deadline for completing its work.
During Thursday's meeting, DENR Secretary John Skvarla indicated his support for the controversial legislation.
"The bill is a giant step forward to all of us who demand environmental protection and certainty to the people willing to spend tens of millions of dollars in the hydraulic fracturing process," Skvarla said.
Not so, according to environmental opponents.
"It is much better than the Senate version," Environment N.C. Director Elizabeth Ouzts told INDY Week Wednesday. "But it is still bad for water quality, and it breaks the promise that the legislature made last year that they would allow the Mining and Energy Commission to develop rules before setting a date for permits to be issued."
As expected, fast-track fracking legislation, Senate Bill 76, passed the House Commerce and Job Development Committee Wednesday morning, although with several notable departures from the version passed by Senate leaders in February.
Those differences, according to fracking opponent and Environment N.C. Director Elizabeth Ouzts, include stripping the legislation of language allowing the injection of fracking waste underground. The House version also removes a provision booting environmental and geological experts from the regulatory Mining and Energy Commission, the panel tasked with preparing the state's regulatory structure for drilling.
The bill's key point—authorizing the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to issue fracking permits in March 2015—remains, although with the addendum that permits will require another legislative vote for them to take effect, Ouzts said.
"It is much better than the Senate version," Ouzts said. "But it is still bad for water quality, and it breaks the promise that the legislature made last year that they would allow the Mining and Energy Commission to develop rules before setting a date for permits to be issued."
Senate Bill 76 now heads for the House Environment Committee. The legislation is sponsored by Senate Republicans Buck Newton, Bob Rucho and Andrew Brock. All three senators received substantial campaign contributions from energy companies in recent years.
Expect the debate of local vs. state control over fracking to only swell.
Tuesday night, commissioners in Anson County approved a 5-year fracking ban as they gather more information on the drilling and its prospective pros and cons.
Leaders in the rural county east of Charlotte were pushed to approve the moratorium by at least one local environmentalist, according to Hope Taylor, an anti-fracking activist with Clean Water for North Carolina. Anson joins the Granville County town of Creedmoor in passing an anti-fracking ordinance, although it's unclear whether state lawmakers will eventually trump local control in fracking legislation.
Fracking is a drilling technique used to extract natural gas from underground shale deposits. Proponents say the drilling will bring jobs and commerce to North Carolina. Opponents say the practice poses environmental hazards, including groundwater contamination. Anson sits at the southern end of a North Carolina corridor targeted for future drilling, which could be cleared for permitting in the next two to three years.
INDY Week has written extensively about fracking in the past, as well as the work of the state's Mining and Energy Commission, a panel charged with readying the state's fracking regulations. We've also spent some time looking into the online activities of commission Chairman Jim Womack, which you can read about here and here.
Much-discussed plans for a two-story CVS in downtown Carrboro will be back before town leaders Tuesday night.
The pharmacy bigbox's latest plans for a 24,590 square-foot store at the intersection of Greensboro and Weaver streets are likely to draw the usual share of ire from some Carrboro protesters, who argue the store will clog the town's center with traffic congestion, destroy historic homes and otherwise disrupt town life.
CVS officials say their current location near Carr Mill Mall is too small to support demand in the Orange County town.
Pharmacy plans have been through various phases, although the slight modifications in the newest CVS plan, which include a small partially enclosed park and a reduction in parking spaces from 65 to 61, don't seem likely to satiate the store's chief critics.
Tuesday's meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. at Carrboro Town Hall. View the meeting agenda here.
If you enjoy reading instruction manuals, chances are Friday's webinar report on a long-awaited fracking study from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was a hoot.
EPA scientist Jeanne Briskin, who is helping to lead the study, explained the multi-pronged approach the agency is taking to tackle fracking, which could begin permitting in North Carolina as soon as 2014. Perhaps not coincidentally, that's when the EPA expects to issue its draft report on the environmental impacts of the controversial drilling method.
The EPA study is expected to focus on fracking's effect on groundwater, water supply and wastewater treatment. All are key issues considering the widespread reports blaming fracking for water pollution in U.S. states that already allow the drilling.
Briskin said EPA research projects include analysis of fracking chemicals (dutifully listed on FracFocus' online registry of chemicals), spills, water-use scenarios and wastewater treatment. Work is also underway to develop methods for identifying the source of water contamination, vital if environmentalists are to concretely link the drilling to pollution reports.
EPA case studies of drinking water impacts are ongoing in fracking states, such as Colorado, North Dakota, Texas and Pennsylvania, Briskin said.
Additionally, EPA officials are planning five "technical roundtables" on fracking in 2013, starting with a Feb. 25 session on analytical chemical methods in the Triangle, according to Briskin. In April, expect roundtables on well operations and wastewater treatment, followed by meets on water acquisition and case studies in June.
After the release of its 2014 draft report, there will be a period for a science peer review, after which the agency will issue its final report, Briskin said.
In the meantime, the Indy will keep tabs on the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission, the group charged with readying fracking regulations. The group next meets Jan. 24-25.
Those looking for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) final word on fracking impacts will have to wait—at least until 2014.
But the EPA is hosting webinars today and tomorrow to provide a progress report on the ongoing study. By this morning, all slots were filled for today's 2 p.m. webinar, although spots remained for Friday's noon session. Register here.
According to the EPA, the webinar is going to offer updates on the study's approach and status, as well as five technical roundables held in Nov. 2012.
EPA officials say the purpose of the Congress-requested study will be to "assess the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources, if any, and to identify the driving factors that may affect the severity and frequency of such impacts."
Research will key on drinking water impacts, the impacts of fracking chemicals and fracking wastewater.
The controversial drilling practice, which could begin permitting in North Carolina as soon as 2014, has been dogged by reports of groundwater contamination and other environmental impacts, such as increased seismic activity in fracking regions. Proponents, however, say the drilling will be a boon to the state's lagging economy.
Follow the ongoing work of the state's Mining and Energy Commission here. The commission and its various committees will next meet Jan. 24-25 in Raleigh.
Thus far, the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission's meetings have been primarily organizational in nature, with members debating such things as pre-meeting prayers and committee assignments.
But commission Chair Jim Womack told members of the N.C. General Assembly's Environmental Review Commission Thursday morning that the group expects its first "substantive" discussion of fracking regulations next week.
"It'll be the first time that we actually start tackling the issues," Womack said.
The mining commission includes drilling industry reps, geologists, a handful of conservationists and local government leaders like Womack—a county commissioner in the likely drilling hub of Lee County. The commission was created when lawmakers voted in July to begin the controversial drilling practice as soon as 2014. In the meantime, Womack's commission is charged with building a regulatory framework.
Proponents say fracking will bolster the state's lagging economy with jobs and cash while providing a cache of locally-grown energy. Critics, however, note many reports of environmental pollution and increased seismic activity blamed on the drilling in other states.
The commission has split into six committees focusing on topics such as mining, civil penalties, environmental standards and water and waste management. The panel has also enlisted three study groups to discuss funding sources, local government regulatory powers and compulsory pooling.
The latter subject is an especially touchy one for many fracking opponents, who point out holdout landowners can be forced to ink gas leasing agreements if the bulk of their neighbors have already done so.
Womack said Thursday that the 15-member commission of appointees would likely meet at least once every six weeks. He acknowledged the transition from outgoing Gov. Bev Perdue to Gov.-elect Pat McCrory could spur turnover for some members of the commission.
"We haven't wedded ourselves to those personalities," Womack said.
Womack also made his pitch to lawmakers for more than $500,000 in funding for the commission to cover operating expenses, travel and staff pay.
Next week's meeting of the Mining and Energy Commission is set for 9 a.m. Wednesday in Raleigh's Archdale Building on North Salisbury Street.
Generally speaking, vice presidential candidates are thought of as the presidential ticket's attack dog.
GOP Congressman Paul Ryan, controversial architect of deficit-reducing federal budget plans, was just that when he made a campaign stop in Raleigh Wednesday, taking shots at President Obama on the economy, healthcare and Medicare. His stop comes days after presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney tapped the Ayn Rand devotee as his running mate.
"The president inherited a difficult situation when he came into office," Ryan told a crowd of several thousand fired-up conservatives—mostly white, mostly graying—at the Raleigh facility of sheet-metal fabrication company SMT. "Here's the problem, he's made things much worse."
Ryan used the afternoon stop in the Tar Heel state, one of many key swing states in the upcoming presidential election, to highlight the differences between the Romney and Obama camps, touting Romney as a business-savvy, bipartisan leader and the president as a bitterly partisan, irresponsible spender.
Most North Carolina polls, aside from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling, show the GOP nominee holding an ever-so-slim lead on Obama prior to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte next month.
Catch the full story of Wednesday's Ryan rally in next week's Indy.