Basins in North Carolina contain potential for oil and gas extraction. Image from the N.C. Department of Natural Resources' April 2012 fracking study.

Group opposes fracking, says regional economic impacts possible

Katie Hicks, with Clean Water for North Carolina

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.

ProPublica’s reporting series on fracking can be found here.

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.

Sen. Bob Rucho, of Mecklenburg County, introduced legislation about fracking this week. Find more on the Clean Energy and Economic Security Act here.

Carolina Public Press: WNC legislator says his proposal for formal state study of natural gas fracking will ‘set the stage for us for the next step’

Clay Hurand

Clay Hurand is former intern and contributing researcher to Carolina Public Press.

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  1. The politicians who support this are the ones who receive campaign contributions from the very same people who want to do this environmental disaster mostly GOP they only care about money and nothing else and to destroy our lands and water for fuel that will only last by their own accounts 1 year and a couple of days and then they pull out and leave …Leaving us with all the polluted water laden with chemicals and they wont even tell us what they are and all that poison is left in our ground to kill us slowly as it all comes to the surface just so a few people can profit..They cannot guarantee our safety they never can and yet they will lie to us and say oh its safe trust us the environmentalists are all lying.. I wonder how many of these fracking wells are located along or near big ranches like the GW Bush’s in Texas or Dick Cheney’s. ponderosa. If you look close you will not see this sort of thing on the important peoples property of the USA its always in main stream American because they know the poorest of the land owners can always use the money so they are easy sells for this devastation. Now that the GOP has taken over NC lets see how they manage our safety or do they sell out to the known killers of our environments.

  2. If you believe their agenda driven numbers on the natual ga reserves , then you must believe that fracking contaminates ground as well. BUT, the problem is that they are lying. There is not one proven case of ground water conatmination and even Obama’s black boots at the EPA testifying on front of congress last year were forced to admit this. But then again, why let facts stand in the way of clean, chepa energy and a bettered society for all?

  3. This is a no-brainer except for those with no brains. How on the face of god’s green earth is the possibilty of ruining our groundwater for ANYTHING worth the value of any perceived benefit? Good god, people, think for yourselves and stop being a sheep to the energy companies, their lobbyists, and the politicians they pay for.

  4. You are completely WRONG!

    Fraking will have a profound impact on WNC. It will provide supplies of natural gas
    that will help residents and visitors stay warm when the winter chill blows through.
    And, it will ensure that there is gasoline and desiel fuel available for food and the
    necessities of life to be trucked into the area from all across the country.

    If it were not for fraking – there would not be enough food or fuel available
    to sustain the population in Western North Carolina without relying on
    imports from Middle Eastern nations and the military commitment and
    loss of life that requires.

    Fraking makes life better.

  5. Whats all the hullabaloo about, this is a no brainer not even worth the discussion. Heck even Stevie Wonder can see what to do here.
    “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.

    ENOUGH for 1year and 2 days, thats all ? all this chatter and you risk destroying the ground water, nature and travel industry for a years supply. Heck Make every one eat Bushs bake beans and supply their own natural gas.