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
After years of much-bemoaned inactivity on the touchy subject of Rogers Road, leaders in Orange County seem to be on the move these days.
Two weeks ago, Orange County commissioners passed a sweeping resolution to pledge $500,000 for a long-sought community center in the low-income neighborhood vexed by an aging landfill. That comes after Chapel Hill leaders closed neighbors' makeshift community center on Rogers Road last month over numerous fire safety concerns.
Tonight, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen will take up a proposal to provide public sewer to the community.
Extending sewer service to Rogers Road residents would cost approximately $5.8 million, according to the Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA). It's unclear how leaders in Orange County, Chapel Hill and Carrboro will divvy up the cost.
The sewer proposal comes from a task force of local government leaders and members of the Rogers-Eubank Neighborhood Association (RENA). Cost-sharing plans include dividing up expenses based on population, landfill usage and tax revenues.
There has been no consensus yet on how to pay the sewer bill, but officials acknowledge the need. Rogers Road residents blame health ailments and polluted water on the landfill, which was built prior to more modern regulations requiring dump lining to prevent harmful contents from seeping into the groundwater.
Rogers Road has been the landfill site for local governments for 40 years, after initially agreeing to house the dump for a decade. Leaders have postponed closing the landfill for years. County commissioners now say they will shut down the site next year.
Tonight's Carrboro Board of Aldermen meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. at Carrboro Town Hall.
A wimpy air-conditioner and a question over acceptable amounts of unfiltered air entering a building have prompted the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to issue two apparent violations against Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant, according to the NRC.
The NRC has scheduled an enforcement conference at the agency’s Region II office, 245 Peachtree Center Ave. NE, Ste. 1200, in Atlanta on Friday, Aug. 24, at 8 a.m. The conference is open to the public.
Duke Energy operates Shearon Harris, which is near New Hill, about 20 miles southwest of Raleigh.
The NRC outlined the violations, which were detected during an inspection, in a press release today. They include the company’s failure to maintain the ventilation systems at one of the plant’s Emergency Operations Facilities (EOF) and its Technical Support Center (TSC); the former ventilation problem happened for extended periods over two years.
Neither violation posed an immediate safety concern, the NRC said.
The NRC classified both violations as “white,” or a low-to-moderate safety signifcance in its color-coded system. From lowest to highest, the range is green, white, yellow and red.
Julia Milstead, Duke Energy spokesperson, said the air-conditioning system at an EOF wasn’t operating at full capacity. The facility in question is two miles from the plant and located at the visitors’ center. In case of an emergency, Harris employees, including technical workers, would be evacuated to one of five EOFs to coordinate emergency procedures.
“It’s like if the air-conditioning wasn’t working well in your house and instead of 69 degrees it would be 79 degrees,” Milstead said.
(That's pretty chilly. Duke Energy’s website recommends that residential thermostats be set at 76—78 degrees while you’re home.)
The second violation is related to changes in calculating the amount of unfiltered air that can enter the Technical Support Center. The NRC was concerned Duke Energy didn’t have adequate technical basis for its calculations, Milstead said.
The TSC has filtered air to prevent unacceptable levels of airborne radiation from entering the building, should such levels be present outside. When the plant was designed, engineers calculated how much “in leakage” of unfiltered air could flow into the building.
At the time, engineers calculated 60 cubic feet of unfiltered air per minute could enter the building.
Beer drinkers, think about it this way: If you were to fill 60 cubic feet with PBR, you would need 28.6 kegs.
(Math haters skip this paragraph: 1 cubic foot = 7.4 gallons. 60 cubic feet = 444 gallons. 1 keg = 15.5 gallons. 444/15.5= 28.6. If only the SAT had been this enjoyable.)
Milstead said recent tests and recalculations showed even less “unfiltered in-leakage” was entering the building than previously believed—15 cubic feet per minute. (Or seven kegs.)
“The NRC will determine if it meets the standard,” Milstead said. “We feel like we have adequate in-leakage rates.”
In addition, Duke Energy failed to inform the NRC about the ailing air conditioning system at the EOF, also a violation.
“We didn’t understand the reporting criteria for the EOF,” Milstead explained. “We’ve learned from it. If there is maintenance going on, our control operators will communicate it to the plant and the NRC.”
The weather in July in the Triangle was magnificent—if you're a volcano. Or a steel foundry. Or a cactus.
Raleigh-Durham International Airport was one of 173 places in the U.S. that set all-time records for the highest temperature in July.
RDU hit 105 degrees on July 8; the previous record was set just nine days earlier, on June 30, which also climbed to 105 degrees.
In fact, July was the hottest month on record for the U.S., according to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which released a report today detailing the record-breaking temperatures.
Among the findings:
More than 4,400 places in the U.S. set daily records for the hottest daytime temperatures.
3,673 places hit daily records for the hottest nighttime temperatures.
NOAA examined historical data for all January—July time periods since 1895. In North Carolina, January through July 2012 was the hottest time period in the state in 118 years. The temperature was 2.9 degrees above the average.
Carrboro planners may have rebuffed a Family Dollar developer's designs for settling in an Alabama Avenue historic neighborhood, but local opponents of the discount store aren't breaking out the party hats and streamers just yet.
"We've been having these small victories," said community resident Anissa McLendon. "But we can't celebrate 100 percent, maybe we can celebrate about 80 percent."
McLendon, along with a band of fired-up neighbors, has led protests and even a march to stymie Raleigh-based builder Will Stronach's plans to build a 8,100-square-foot Family Dollar in the largely residential community.
The discount store would be built on less than an acre near the intersection of Alabama Avenue and Jones Ferry Road. Residents in the tightly-knit Alabama Avenue community have been largely unified for more than a year in their quest to jettison Family Dollar plans.
McLendon's guarded optimism comes after Carrboro Development Review Administrator Marty Roupe wrote in a July 20 letter that a builder plan to pipe drainage water off of the Alabama Avenue site clashes with town ordinances that development "shall conform to the natural contours of the land and natural drainage ways shall remain undisturbed."
By piping the drainage off-site, the builder hoped to avoid town rules requiring Stronach receive a variance from town regulations on an ephemeral stream, a temporary waterway created by precipitation. Carrboro land maps denote one such stream on the Alabama Avenue plot.
The builder contends a pipe running beneath a nearby convenience store "artificially" increases the flow on the Alabama Avenue tract, and that piping the flow to the town's drainage system on Jones Ferry Road would render the variance unnecessary.
Carrboro staff would not give their blessing.
The decision is the latest snag for Family Dollar, a Matthews-based chain that residents worried would beget heavy traffic and crime for the neighborhood. In June, Stronach—who did not return an Indy phone call this week—withdrew his application after the Carrboro Board of Adjustment rejected the stream variance. Reps for the builder have been inquiring about his options with town staff in the weeks since.
Following Family Dollar's latest defeat, McLendon said Tuesday that locals hope the developer gets the message. "Maybe they will just go find another lot that would be suitable for their needs," she said.
Family Dollar foes hope to deal another blow to the proposal in September, which is when officials on the Carrboro Board of Aldermen are expected to consider rezoning the Alabama Avenue tract for residential uses. The move would require any future commercial development plans go before the town's elected leaders for rezoning.
A new study released this week by Duke University researchers seems to excuse fracking from at least one groundwater hazard in Pennsylvania.
The report, issued by researchers in Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment, indicated "natural pathways" in drill-heavy northeastern Pennsylvania could be to blame for elevated levels of underground salts and gases in the region's drinking water.
According to the Duke study, researchers found higher levels of salt content with similar geochemistry to Marcellus brine in drinking water samples, although there seemed to be "no direct links between the salinity and shale gas exploration in the region."
The higher salinity can pose drinking water hazards in cases where the water was found to have elevated barium levels.
Avner Vengosh, a professor of geochemistry and water quality at the Nicholas School who co-authored this week's report, said Marcellus brine contains high levels of metals and naturally-occurring radioactivity.
The report seems a very modest victory for backers of fracking, the controversial drilling technique in which gas companies inject pressurized chemical stews underground to break loose shale-trapped natural gas.
Questions remain about the long-term environmental and health impacts of the drilling, which has been dogged by widespread reports of water pollution and increased seismic activity in drilling states. Two weeks ago, fracking was cleared to begin as soon as 2014 in North Carolina thanks to a veto override in the N.C. General Assembly that never should have happened.
Duke's newest study comes more than a year after university scientists reported methane levels 17 times higher in wells near fracking sites in northeastern Pennsylvania and New York. The long-term health impacts of drinking methane are unknown at this point, although the gas is explosive in high concentrations.
Last year's study was met with expected criticism from fracking backers who argued the Duke report did not support its findings. Vengosh told the Indy Thursday that the gripes didn't affect the continuing research.
"We are not supported by the industry, so we are totally free in terms of our data and interpretation," he said. "It was amusing, but it has nothing to do with the research direction or interpretation. It seems like everyone is taking what they want to see from these studies."
Vengosh said the school's researchers plan to delve into additional components related to fracking, venturing outside of northeast drilling zones and into southeast states like Arkansas. University scientists are also gathering baseline water quality data in likely drilling sites in North Carolina.
On Sunday, the lame-duck Gov. Bev Perdue handed down her third veto of GOP-backed legislation in four days when she axed Senate Bill 820, a controversial measure paving the way for hydraulic fracturing, better known as "fracking," in North Carolina as soon as 2014.
It comes days after the governor used the veto power on a GOP-backed budget plan and an overhaul of the Racial Justice Act.
It remains to be seen whether Republican legislators have the support to override Perdue's fracking veto in the N.C. House. A veto override requires a three-fifths vote from both chambers, and neither chamber met that mark when the legislation was passed two weeks ago.
Still, thanks to absent lawmakers, Senate Republicans were successful in a 29-13 override vote Monday and House leaders could take a vote on the override this afternoon.
Perdue's fracking veto came at the last minute this weekend as Sunday was the last day she could exercise her veto power on the bill. Fracking opponents likely felt some angst awaiting word on Perdue's decision during the 10-day veto period as the governor announced in March that she backs fracking if the proper safeguards are in place.
The legislation opens the door to the natural gas drilling in two years after lawmakers build a regulatory structure, also granting wide powers to a newly-created mining commission to regulate the industry.
Supporters tout fracking as an economic energizer with the potential to create hundreds of jobs and bring revenues to lucky landowners in central parts of North Carolina like Sanford. Critics, however, note the many questions about the drilling's long-term environmental impacts, including examples of water pollution and increased seismic activity reported in other states.
Some also noted a majority of the mining commission's ranks would be filled by individuals with experience or interest in the industry.
Senate Bill 820—the brainchild of Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, and Rep. Mitch Gillespie, R-McDowell—survived opposition from N.C. General Assembly Democrats and environmentalists who said the legislation did not do enough to protect the state's environment.
In a statement Sunday, Perdue echoed those sentiments.
"Our drinking water and the health and safety of North Carolina's families are too important," Perdue said in the statement. "We can't put them in jeopardy by rushing to allow fracking without proper safeguards."
The governor called on lawmakers to adopt a "strong set of standards" as she urged in an executive order in May.
Not surprisingly, Republican legislative leaders are taking shots at the governor for her veto, calling it a "flip-flop" in a joint statement Sunday by House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham.
"The General Assembly incorporated many of the governor's recommendations in a bipartisan plan to begin developing regulatory framework for affordable, clean energy alternatives," the lawmakers said. "We are disappointed, but not surprised, that when decision time neared, she once again caved to her liberal base rather than support the promise of more jobs for our state."
Meanwhile, environmental advocates applauded the veto.
"Gov. Perdue stood up for our drinking water today," said Elizabeth Ouzts, state director for Environment North Carolina, in a statement Sunday. "She stood up for our air quality and our rural landscapes, and against this dangerous approach to fracking."
Hope Taylor, executive director of Clean Water for NC, said in a statement that the governor heeded the voices of a number of fracking opponents who called for the governor's veto in recent weeks.
"While there are varying perceptions about the safety of fracking and the economic potential of shale gas in North Carolina, it's only those who already have a vested interest in shale gas, or who want to bring dirty oil and gas money into N.C. elections who were pushing hard for this bill—that's why bill supporters couldn't muster many contacts to the governor," Taylor said.
Democrats' gubernatorial candidate, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, took the opportunity to separate himself from the unpopular Perdue, releasing a statement Monday criticizing the veto.
"This legislation sets up a regulatory structure that, while not perfect, is a proactive step and no fracking can occur until further action by the legislature," Dalton said. "The House did take steps to include more safeguards, especially for the drinking water supply, which is one of my principle concerns."
From the Department of Serendipity:
Sea levels along the Atlantic Coast from Cape Hatteras to Boston are rising faster than anywhere else in the world, according to a report in the journal Nature Climate Change.
"We present evidence of recently accelerated sea level rise along a unique, 1,000-kilometer hotspot on the highly populated North American Atlantic Coast north of Cape Hatteras ... " the report reads.
"Sea level rise, plus storm surge and other factors will increase the vulnerability of coastal cities to flooding, and beaches and wetlands to deterioration," it continues.
Not that this news will faze NC-20, a group of development interests and county managers from the coast, who lobbied for a bill that would restrict the way the state can measure the ocean's rise. The Indy recently reported on NC-20's ties to climate change deniers.
The Republican-led Senate passed the bill, but it failed in the House; it has since gone to a conference committee.