Every day, our journalism dismantles barriers and shines a light on the critical overlooked and under-reported issues important to all North Carolinians.
Group opposes fracking, says regional economic impacts possible
As a proposal to allow natural gas extraction gained more attention in the state legislature this week, environmentalists are again ramping up their opposition to fracking, which – depending on whom you ask – could offer the state an economic goldmine or an environmental danger.
Hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as “fracking,” is a method of extracting natural gas from shale located thousands of feet below the earth’s surface. Part of the controversy about fracking comes from the methods used to expose the gas, which commonly use high-power injections of water, sand and chemicals.
According to Clean Water for North Carolina, which opposes fracking, one operation uses 3 million to 5 million gallons of water, and each well can be fracked over 20 times.
The statewide environmental organization also says there are an estimated 309 billion cubic feet of natural gas available in North Carolina alone. That is enough to supply the state with about one year of natural gas, according to Katie Hicks, the organization’s assistant director, who is based in Asheville.
And while advocates for fracking argue that economic benefits overshadow the environmental effects, environmental organizations generally disagree.
Carolina Public Press asked Hicks more about fracking and its potential impact on Western North Carolina. The group is holding a benefit concert on Saturday where they will also discuss their opposition to fracking.
Carolina Public Press: What is fracking?
Katie Hicks: “Hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking,’ is a method of extracting natural gas that involves injecting high-pressure fluids thousands of feet deep with a cocktail of water, sand and chemicals to break up shale and release the (natural) gas,” she said in an e-mail. “One fracking operation uses 3 to 5 million gallons of water and each well may be fracked over 20 times.”
CPP: What is CWFNC’s position on fracking?
Hicks: “The short answer: CWFNC does not believe fracking can be done safely without harm to water supplies, air quality, and communities,” she said. “Therefore, we are against lifting the laws that currently ban fracking in N.C.” Hicks pointed out that the organization has a longer position statement on fracking, which can be found here.
CPP: Can you talk about fracking’s environmental effects versus its economic benefits?
Hicks: “Fracking has the potential to cause irreversible environmental harms to N.C., including groundwater contamination, strain on existing wastewater treatment systems, air pollution, use of large quantities of freshwater and even seismic effects,” she said. “Some pro-fracking advocates claim that these are outweighed by economic benefits, but in other states, natural gas development has followed the boom-bust cycle common to other extraction industries, dominating local economies for a few years and then leaving them weakened and less diverse.
“In addition, in N.C., if all of the potential areas of shale turned out to be viable, there would still be only a predicted long-term 350 jobs created, and (based on what’s happened in other states) most jobs would not go to local residents.”
CPP: How will it affect the state’s groundwater supply?
Hicks: “We can’t know for sure, but here are some of the frightening possibilities if fracking is legalized in N.C.,” she said. “There has been documentation of groundwater contaminated with methane and reports of the chemicals used in fracking showing up in nearby groundwater. Gas companies may also tap either ground water or surface water supplies to obtain the water needed for the process (3-5 million gallons per well per ‘frack;’ each well can be fracked multiple times). This could put a strain on other nearby users.”
CPP: Will it impact Western North Carolina? If so, what areas?
Hicks: “The closest shales to Western North Carolina are in Davie, Stokes and Rockingham Counties in the western Piedmont, more than 100 miles from Asheville,” she said, adding that direct impacts to the region “are not likely,” though indirect impacts to the regional economy are possible.
CPP: How much gas is reported to be obtainable?
Hicks: “The state estimates a recoverable resource of 309 billion cubic feet, enough to supply North Carolina’s consumption for roughly one year and two days,” she said.
CPP: How involved are WNC legislators in the issue?
Hicks: “The entire General Assembly will vote on any legislation that is introduced to legalize or study fracking, so it is important that all N.C. legislators be educated on the potential impacts of fracking,” she said. “In particular, Rep. Mitch Gillespie, of McDowell County, has taken a lead on legislation addressing hydraulic fracturing (introducing a bill last year that required study of the impacts of fracking). Rep. Gillespie’s legislation, though more cautious than other extreme bills, appears to be moving toward legalizing fracking.”
For more on fracking:
The N.C. Department of Natural Resources shale gas portal includes public hearing information and the department’s study.
The Raleigh Public Record read and blogged through the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ fracking study. The first entry can be found here.