State "fracking" study will pick sides

Staff writerDecember 13, 2011 

The state's ongoing study of the pros and cons of "fracking" will not merely be a neutral exercise in fact-gathering. In response to public demand, the study will pick a side -- either for or against the controversial method of exploring natural gas.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced the expanded scope of the study today, several months into conducting research. The likely outcome will be that the study and recommendations will be dismissed as biased by whoever disagrees with its conclusions.

The agency is conducting the study for the state legislature to help lawmakers determine whether they should legalize "fracking" in this state. The study is expected to be ready by May 1, in time for the 2012 legislative session.

"Fracking" refers to the hydraulic fracturing technology used to release gas trapped in prehistoric shale rock formations underground. "Fracking" is used in conjunction with horizontal drilling, a practice that's also not allowed in this state at this time.

Diana Kees, a spokeswoman for DENR, said today's announcement mere clarifies the intent of the study.

"We always intended to make a recommendation one way or the other, but we didn't have it spelled out before," she said."We wanted to assure the public that we are going to address these things in the study."

In other states, shale gas exploration has been dogged by reports of contaminated drinking water, earth tremors and a host of other problems. The gas industry consistently denies the problems even as individual drilling companies supply some households with bottled water and refillable water tanks to appease critics.

North Carolina is believed to have 1,400 square miles of natural gas less than a mile below Lee, Moore and Chatham counties. The rock formations also extend into parts of Durham and Wake counties.

If "fracking" were to be legalized, some local property owners stand to reap hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties for the gas drilled under their land.

The "fracking" study will also add sections on the impacts to the local economy, consequences for surface water quality and potential impacts to energy consumers in this state, today's announcement said.

It will also expand the air quality section to examine the consequences of flaring gas wells on potential greenhouse gas emissions.

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