A positive future in sights for drillers
by: Charlotte Adams
Fracking in North Carolina is a touchy subject, and holds an especially tender spot in the university spotlight here at UNC. As a student, I was, and still am, bombarded with people yelling at me on campus (quite literally) telling me to vote for their candidate, environmental concern, academic interest, or whatever other platform they wished for the student body to support. This year, fracking has been a main competitor for attention during the election season, even continuing through January. By researching fracking in high school, I learned about the legal aspects of fracking regarding land rights, but I didn’t see any other sides of the controversy until getting to Carolina, where environmental concerns take a high seat on students’ agendas.
“Fracking” is a slang term for “hydraulic fracturing” and is a somewhat newer method (since 1947) of “extracting natural gas from shale rocklayers” (WhatIsFracking.com). Shale rock is formed of sediment and is characterized by thin, horizontal, slat-like layers of rock. The fracking process includes digging roughly a mile into the earth, where water and other chemicals are pumped into the ground at extremely high pressures. The natural gas deposits located in shale rock are then released out of “confinement” for collection into concrete tanks. Traditional forms of drilling solely utilize vertical drilling, but fracking incorporates vertical and horizontal drilling together. This lateral movement allows for access of deposits of natural gas that traditional drilling measures have been largely unsuccessful at reaching, and it could be used in the future to reach significant North Carolina reserves of natural gas.
Last July, North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue vetoed a bill that would lift a ban on fracking in North Carolina because “permit[ting] the practices would not ensure adequate environment protections” (Huffington Post). Although ex-Governor Bev Perdue supported fracking, she, and many other North Carolinians, could not come to terms with the environmental implications that are paired with its practices. As reported in the Huffington Post, Perdue said that, “We can’t put [families] in jeopardy by rushing to allow fracking without proper safeguards.”
There are some tangible benefits resulting from fracking however. Primarily, fracking obviously would create jobs for North Carolina, providing relief in our current state of economic despair. There is a large push to lift fracking bans due to it’s job creation potential, but restrictions and laws need to be written before drillers go “free-for-all” on natural gas fracking expeditions. The dilemma we run into, now, though, is just how much regulation is necessary before fracking can be legalized? Just as in every other industry in America, one will undoubtedly run into things that need to be fixed along the way, and I think, to some degree, that North Carolina should embrace this concept instead of regulating the oil industry to the nth-degree.
The environmental dangers seem to be the greatest area of concern for the public on the issue of fracking. Contrary to public thought, rules for environmental protection are already being legislated for the fracking process. Before a fracking driller begins extracting natural gas, the well in which the natural gas will be collected is cased with cement to ensure groundwater protection. The total protection of groundwater can be difficult to monitor, however, as the noticeable and measureable effects of fracking may be delayed through the natural processes of the earth. According to WhatIsFracking.com, the liquids used to retrieve the natural gas can rise back to the surface due to pressures underground, and this “fracking water” has to be dealt with properly as it contains any mixture of water, sand, salt, citric acid, benzene, or lead. So although the natural gas may be contained completely, the remaining products of the fracking process rise naturally back to the surface and can possibly cause damage to the nearby environment.
Two current options for handling fracking water are either storing the fluids in tanks for later treatment or storing it deep underground, the latter being the cheaper option for drilling companies. It was proposed that fracking water could be used in crop irrigation, but the idea of reusing the water for agricultural purposes was short-lived as it was problematic in practice. In regards to the option of storing fracking water deep underground, the EPA stated that, “Where fluids are injected, groundwater production, combined with mitigating effects of dilution and dispersion, absorption, and biodegration, minimize the possibility that chemicals included in fracturing fluids would adversely affect underground sources of drinking water]” (WhatIsFracking.com). The EPA, which regulates both options of handling fracking water, seems confident in the prospect of safe fracking. I think it is fair to say that conservatives are not the only ones backing fracking, as we can see that the government has stated that fracking can be a very positive opportunity for the US if will comply with basic safety regulations. North Carolina is currently looking to set it’s own legislation for fracking, specifically where fracking waste is concerned.
Natural gas companies are increasingly looking to drill in the Piedmont and then inject fracking waste in coastal North Carolina, and the eastern counties are fighting back. According to the New Bern Sun Journal, drilling companies put hundreds of thousands of gallons of waste underground in eastern North Carolina forty years ago, and, after extreme pressure build-up, the containments leaked into public water sources. North Carolina then placed a ban on fracking which has yet to be lifted. Residents of eastern North Carolina are concerned, also, that the “dumpsite” image of the area will lead to a decrease in tourism, seriously reducing a large source of their income. North Carolina legislators are fearful of another failed experience, and are taking all measures to carefully ease their way back into a fracking-friendly North Carolina. Fracking in NC is now not a matter of “if”, but “when”, and we can expect to see increased movement towards fracking-friendly measures in the capitol building with the election of Governor Pat McCrory as he aims to improve North Carolina’s economic situation.
This article’s pictures can be found at: http://marcellusdrilling.com/2013/03/former-pa-gov-rendell-to-gov-cuomo-get-fracking/ and http://whichwaync.com/2012/06/08/what-fracking-means-for-nc/.