"Don't watch Gasland 2 alone," says Josh Fox. "It's too scary, kind of like Psycho. You'll never take a shower the same way again."
Fox isn't kidding. His much-anticipated, anti-fracking sequel screened at Durham's Carolina Theatre Monday night, with many of its otherwise sterile interviews darkened with a chilling horror movie score. There's even a scene in which Fox's beloved Delaware River Basin near his Pennsylvania home is besieged by CGI gas wells as if they're asteroids from on high. Where's Morgan Freeman when you need him?
Subtlety may not be Fox's trademark, but if he's going for shock and awe, he nails it. His sequel, which originally premiered on HBO this summer, continues to document the ongoing political turmoil over natural gas drilling. Both Republicans and Democrats, particularly President Obama's administration, take their lumps from Fox in the film.
Supporters tout fracking as a relatively clean drilling method that can reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil. Opponents see only disaster, noting the widespread reports of water and air contamination, as well as increased seismic activity. North Carolina Republicans side with the former, with hopes of permitting drilling as soon as 2015.
Fox's 2010 film was nominated for an Academy Award for "best documentary feature," even though industry types besmirched it as little more than environmentalist propaganda. He received a hero's welcome at last night's screening, which was organized by anti-fracking protestors from Clean Water for N.C. and Wilmington's Working Films Reel Power.
Clean Water Director Hope Taylor estimated 500 people attended the film, which included a Q&A session with the Pennsylvania-bred filmmaker immediately following the screening.
Of the interesting moments, Fox said he could not sleep for weeks after he was originally approached to consider natural gas drilling on his Pennsylvania land. "It was one of the most lonely and terrifying and isolating things," he said.
Meanwhile, Fox urged the protesters in attendance to continue their opposition, noting grassroots groups to stop the drilling have launched all over the country and the world. "You're a part of a movement," he said.
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.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced today it is requiring new warning labels on a type of pesticide known as neonicotinoid, thought to be one cause of massive bee die-offs.
As INDY Week reported last week, dozens of studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals have confirmed a strong link between the usage of neonicotinoids and bee health.
The new labels affects products containing the neonicotinoids imidacloprid, dinotefuran, clothianidin and thiamethoxam.
Clothianidin and imidacloprid are made by Bayer CropScience, which has its American headquarters in Research Triangle Park. A third, thiamethoxam, is made by Syngenta, which conducts biotech seed research at its RTP office. Dinotefuran is sold by Mitsui Chemicals, a Japanese company.
Read the statement from PAN and the EPA press release below:
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.
A top official at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced he is leaving his post effective today.
Chuck Wakild, the director of the Division of Water Quality, told his staff, "I will be leaving my job as director effective today and will be retiring from state service at the end of August," according to an email obtained by INDY Week.
He thanked his staff and closed the email by writing, "Change brings opportunities and I encourage you to look for them as we all move ahead."
Wakild (WAY-killed) has been director of DWQ since 2012. He has held many leadership posts at the agency for the past 20 years. He reported directly to Assistant Secretary of the Environment Mitch Gillespie.
DENR spokesman Drew Elliot said his retirement had been planned for some time. "We're glad he stuck around for the first six months of the new administration" to help with the transition, Elliot said.
Wakild's departure comes at a pivotal time for DWQ. Senate Bill 76, known as the fracking bill, passed the House environment committee version last week. While it strips language from the Senate version that allowed for the injection of fracking waste underground, fracking has caused numerous water quality issues in other states where the controversial drilling practice is common.
If SB 76 becomes law, permitting could occur in North Carolina as early as 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.
It may have taken a few decades, but the landfill-blighted Rogers Road community in Chapel Hill is getting some recompense.
Orange County commissioners unanimously approved a vote Tuesday night authorizing County Manager Frank Clifton to award a construction bid for no more than $650,000 to build a long-promised community center in the historically black, low-income neighborhood. Officials said construction could begin this summer with hopes of having the center open by summer 2014. It coincides with a plan to close the county landfill at June's end.
"It's a great opportunity for our kids to learn that, through perseverance, anything can be done," said David Caldwell Jr., organizer for the community center.
Commissioners seemed spurred last year to make progress on the center when Chapel Hill officials moved in August to close a Purefoy Drive home that Rogers Road residents had made into something of a makeshift center. Town leaders cited permitting and building code concerns for shutting down the center.
The new center will be situated on a roughly half-acre plot near the intersection of Purefoy Drive and Edgar Street. It is expected to include classrooms, a kitchen and a computer lab.
The future of Orange County's celebrated recycling program is before county commissioners tonight.
County commissioners will consider a number of proposals—including the widely-reviled prospect of privatization—when they meet at 7 p.m. in Hillsborough.
Expect a full story on the recycling program and its funding challenges in Wednesday's print edition of INDY Week, but in the meantime, sit in on tonight's meeting if you want an admittedly complicated primer. The program touts an unprecedented 59 percent waste reduction rate in the last two decades, but a 2012 court decision has put the program's funding in jeopardy.
Obtain tonight's agenda here.