Some of the most inflammatory entries on N.C. Mining and Energy Commission Chairman Jim Womack's blog—in which right-wingers posing as long-dead founding fathers take shots at their political enemies—are, as of this writing, down. The posts were among those cited in this week's story, in which Womack was outed as an author.
Those posts included sharp attacks on former Lee County blogger Keith Clark, a Womack enemy, that labeled him a "psychopathic liar," a "pitiful and desperate person," "fat," and a "freak." One post, apparently written by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Jay, includes unproven allegations that Clark faked a mental illness in order to receive disability checks.
Don't worry, you can't see them there, but you can still see them below.
In the meantime, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, the lawmaker who appointed Womack to the pivotal Mining and Energy Commission, has yet to comment.
"This is simple," began state Sen. E.S. "Buck" Newton at a commerce committee meeting yesterday. "This country needs the energy and this state needs the jobs."
Newton, who represents Johnston, Nash and Wilson counties, is a primary sponsor of Senate Bill 76, which would allow hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to begin in North Carolina in early 2015. Despite substantial opposition from environmental groups and landowners concerned about impacts on their properties, the bill is moving quickly through the legislature under the cheery alias, the Domestic Energy Jobs Act.
The new bill revamps last year's fracking measure, SB 820, by deleting a number of important regulatory safeguards. In other states, such as Pennsylvania, contamination in drinking water wells, in rivers and at wastewater treatment plants have been linked to nearby fracking operations.
For bill supporters, fracking represents an opportunity for economic growth. They anticipate the creation of thousands of jobs, both directly and indirectly related to the energy industry, taking cues from boom towns in North Dakota and Texas.
Newton, who asserted estimates of 15 trillion to 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas underfoot, treats the bill as a message to energy companies. "North Carolina is ready to do business. We want their investment— we're ready to create jobs."
However, as INDY Week has reported, the number of jobs and amount of accessible natural gas is unknown—and highly speculative.
Opponents question whether the state's shale resources are really as "abundant" as Newton claims, which fuels skepticism on job prospects. Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat who opposes the bill, noted after the meeting that some estimates show fracking would produce a relatively measly 500 jobs. And it is unknown how many of those jobs would go to North Carolinians.
The regulatory changes are the most troubling aspects of the bill.
Among the changes, the bill removes the requirement for a state geologist on the Mining and Energy Commission. "N.C.'s unique geologic features are at the heart of devising a safe regulatory framework," wrote Molly Diggins, state director of the Sierra Club, in an email.
It also removes requirements for representatives from the Environmental Management Commission and the Commission for Public Health. McKissick questioned the wisdom of eliminating representatives with expertise in air and water pollution and waste management.
Newton said the requirements presented a "conflict of interest" and are "too restrictive and too difficult" to achieve.
It’s ironic that Newton is concerned with conflicts of interest because the Mining and Energy Commission, tasked with preparing regulations for fracking, is packed with energy and fracking interests.
The bill also incorporates changes that will affect:
Has Gov. Pat McCrory been hypnotized by The Beverly Hillbillies?
Specifically, the opening sequence in which Jed Clampett Is "shootin' at some food" when, as the ballad goes, "up through the ground came a bubblin' crude."
Oil, that is, black gold, "Texas Tea."
You might think McCrory has drunk the Texas Tea if you heard him crow about the financial benefits of tracking offshore drilling in his State of the State address last night: "Think what we can do with future revenue."
Yes, let's think about it: Besides the obvious environmental hazards (have we forgotten the BP disaster already?), it is unknown how much "economically recoverable" deposits—those that can be accessed cheaply enough for energy companies to turn a profit— lie in federal waters in the mid-Atlantic. (Federal waters extend from three to 200 miles from shore, yet fall under a state's administrative areas.)
Even if sizable deposits were discovered, it would require a change in federal law for North Carolina or any mid-Atlantic state to receive royalties. Currently, only the Gulf states and Alaska share in revenue from drilling operations in federal waters; lawmakers from those states are lobbying for more money from the feds.
And as the INDY reported in 2010 in a story about the prospects of off-shore drilling, those discoveries would only briefly sate Americans' appetite for oil and gas. Overall, Americans use about 840 million gallons of oil per day, according to the Energy Information Agency, meaning even on the high end, the amount of oil in the mid-Atlantic would feed our habit for roughly seven weeks. As for natural gas, the deposits would provide about six months' worth.
McCrory's push to put rigs in the Atlantic is in part a response to last year's Senate Bill 709, which Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed. That bill would have requested Perdue to join a compact with other states, including Virginia and South Carolina to develop and implement a strategy to increase exploration and production of offshore oil and gas.” In his State of the State address, McCrory said he would enter into such an agreement.
Inland, where fracking could begin as early as next year, preliminary estimates of North Carolina's gas potential are "wildly optimistic," according to Ken Taylor, assistant state geologist with the N.C. geological survey.
(Senate Bill 76, the Domestic Jobs Act, will be heard in the Commerce Committee today at 11 a.m. in Room 1027 of the Legislative Building.)
And as INDY Week reported last spring, an N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources study showed that drilling activities in the 59,000-acre Sanford sub-basin would sustain an annual average of 387 jobs over seven years, peaking with 858 jobs in year six. These jobs would be temporary and it would be unlikely that highest-paying positions for experienced drillers would go to North Carolinians, who have not been trained for that work.
So, governor, set a spell. Take your shoes off. Y'all come back now, y'hear?
Coastal military bases, federal crop insurance and federal disaster aid: These government programs are vulnerable to the effects of climate change—enough that the Government Accountability Office has placed the fed's financial vulnerability to climate change-related weather events on a "high risk" list.
A report released today cites observations by the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) that the "impacts and costliness of weather disasters—resulting from floods, drought, and other events such as tropical cyclones—will increase in significance as what are considered 'rare' events become more common and intense due to climate change. In addition, less acute changes in the climate, such as sea level rise, could also result in significant long-term impacts."
The government could have to raise river and coastal dikes and build higher bridges to protect infrastructure from sea level rise.
That will cost money, as will federal disaster aid. Disaster declarations have increased in recent decades, the report says, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has obligated over $80 billion in federal assistance for disasters declared during fiscal years 2004 through 2011. More than $60 billion in federal funding was requested for relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy.
How can the government reduce the nation's vulnerability to climate change? Limit greenhouse gas emissions, the report concludes.
John Skvarla, the newly anointed Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, has publicly stated that under his watch, regulations—and the relaxation thereof—will be grounded in science and fact.
In an illuminating interview with WRAL’s Laura Leslie, Skvarla failed the scientific sniff test. (The portions referenced below begin around 11:21.)
First, Skvarla insinuated that oil and gas are infinite, renewable resources. When Leslie noted that these fossil fuels are not renewable, he replied, “Some people would disagree with you. The Russians, for example, have always drilled oil as if it’s a renewable resource … There is a lot of different scientific opinion on that.”
The abiotic theory of oil, as it’s known, holds that oil is naturally produced deep underground rather than is converted from decomposed and organic material, such as plants and prehistoric forests. Abioticians (We made up that word—why not, if you can make up science?) use this theory to support the idea that we need not wean ourselves off fossil fuels because they’ll never run out.
Creationists have latched on to the theory as way to prove the Earth is only 6,000 years old.
Now Skvarla is right in that the Russians proposed this theory in the 19th century, but it has gained no legitimate, scientific consensus. That didn’t stop astronomer Thomas Gold, who revived the theory in a 1998 book.
In 2005, abiotics was explored again in Black Gold Stranglehold: The Myth of Scarcity and the Politics of Oil by Jerome Corsi and Craig R. Smith, neither of whom is a scientist.
(Corsi has a doctorate in political science from Harvard. Smith is chairman of Swiss America Trading Corporation, an investment firm specializing in U.S. gold and silver coins.)
INDY Week called Dr. John Rogers, UNC professor emeritus of geology, about abiotics. He says the idea that oil and gas are renewable resources is incorrect. “Abiotic oil is another idea that conservatives have latched onto as a way of denying that there is any limitation that the Earth places on the way we live,” Rogers says.
“The idea that there is carbon deep in the Earth is true,” he adds. “The problem is that there is very little in the deep crust in comparison to the oil that has been found and produced by decomposition.”
Rogers, who is writing a book, Rational Environmentalism, taught at UNC from 1975—1997. He says the anti-science movement has strengthened in recent years because of greed.
“If you accept the idea that the Earth puts limits on itself, you have to understand science. We can’t simply manipulate our way to wealth,” he says. “And the modern feeling is that all we have to do is adjust taxes and laws and we will be become rich.”
While we’re comparing credentials—Rogers being a geologist and Corsi being a political scientist—it should be noted that Corsi also pens columns for the conservative website WorldNetDaily, which often trafficks in conspiracy theories and misinformation. WND published the Black Gold book.
Corsi’s previous work includes two books attacking Democrats, including The Obama Nation. A bestseller, it was widely criticized for serious inaccuracies, including that Obama could claim to be a Kenyan citizen and that he was once a practicing Muslim.
Factcheck.org, which is based at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, judged it to be “what a hack journalist might call a ‘paste-up job,’ gluing together snippets from ehre and there without much regard for their truthfulness or accuracy. … A comprehensive review of all the false claims in Corsi's book would itself be a book,” Joe Miller wrote on the Factcheck.org website.
These are the minds from which abiotics sprang—and our new Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources is parading around a scientifically bereft theory.
But wait, there’s more.
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.
The private water company Aqua North Carolina has asked to buy water from Chatham County that could be used for the 751 South project.
Chatham County Commissioners voted 4-1 to direct staff to draft a contract that would allow Aqua North Carolina to buy 850,000 gallons per day from the county. Sally Kost was the lone no vote at the Nov. 19 meeting—the Monday before Thanksgiving.
Kost told the Indy tonight that she specifically asked an Aqua representative if the the water allocation had anything to do with 751. Kost said the Aqua representative responded, "We've talked with them," adding that the company would take a "regional approach," including Durham, to reselling the water.
Here's another twist: Chatham County buys its water allocation from Durham. So in effect, Aqua would sell Durham water to not only Chatham customers, but it could also sell the water back to Durham customers, possibly to those in the proposed 751 development. The water allocation comes from Jordan Lake.
Durham has not finalized an agreement with Chatham County on water allocations.
Kost also blogged about the meeting on her website.
The controversial 751 South development would include 1,300 homes and as much as 600,000 square feet of retail development on 167 acres in the sensitive Jordan Lake watershed. In February, the City of Durham rejected a request from SDD to provide water to the development.
In June SDD and its lobbyist approached a state lawmaker, Tim Moore of Cleveland County, to sponsor a bill forbidding a city from denying water and sewer service to a project in its designated “urban growth area” outside municipal limits.
751 South lies in such an area in southern Durham County. The bill failed.
In July, Durham County Commissioners agreed to provide sewer to 751 South.
Kost told the Indy that she advised her fellow commissioners that "before we do anything we need to talk to Durham."
The Indy has confirmed with a Durham official that Chatham County contacted Durham's utilities department about the issue today.
It's notable that such a significant request was put on the agenda for a meeting just days before Thanksgiving. In addition, Kost noted, the title of the agenda item was vague: "A discussion and vote on Aqua North Carolina's request to purchase capacity in the county's water facility."
This post originally stated that Cal Cunningham, an attorney for SDD, approached Tim Moore. The story has been corrected.
Check back for updates.
If you can get over to Duke this morning, and you can find a parking place, several heavy-hitter conservatives will be outlining their ideas for the environment. Expect to hear the words "free market" and "deregulation."
The event starts at 10 a.m. at Reynolds Theater in the Bryan Center. Or you can drink coffee from the comfort of your desk and watch the live stream
Conservative Visions of Our Environmental Future lasts all day and features Jeffrey Holmstead, former EPA administrator for air under George Bush. He is now an energy lobbyist for several companies, including Duke Energy, which, according to polluterwatch.com, has paid his law firm of Bracewell and Giuliani $668,000 for services from 2008-2011.
During Bush's tenure, Holmstead oversaw the development of Clear Skies Legislation, which loosened pollution controls.
Also on the docket is Eli Lehrer, former president of the Heartland Institute, one of the nation's major climate-change deniers.
North Carolina's energy future, which under Republican leadership, could include fracking and offshore drilling, is the topic of discussion at 1:30. Among the speakers is John Hood of John Locke Foundation, which is funded by the Pope Foundation.
Viewers can tweet questions to @DELPF2012