Greasing the wheels to push ahead with fracking

February 27, 2013 

Give them this: Republicans are being very energy efficient when it comes to weakening environmental regulation and pushing ahead with measures to speed up invitations to companies to engage in risky fracking for natural gas. The process, in which water and chemicals are injected into shale rock formations to break up the rock and release the gas, carries potential hazards.

But legislative Republicans are moving to lift a moratorium on the practice and make it easier for companies to develop drilling operations. It’s right out of the “drill, baby, drill” playbook. Of course, North Carolina has little experience with this type of energy exploration, and to boot, no one is sure about the quality of the state’s natural gas resources. Yes, there is an estimate from the U.S. Geological Survey that there could be several trillion cubic feet of natural gas, a lot of it concentrated around Lee, Moore and Chatham counties. But while the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources said last year that fracking could be safe under the right conditions, there was a caveat.

To dispose of water used to break up rock containing the gas, some frackers want to re-inject wells that have produced natural gas with the tainted water. But DENR warned that the state’s geology isn’t good for that.

Republicans don’t care to hear bad news, and they do not care to hear about the risks of putting chemicals into the ground under high pressure or of potential spills, or about environmental concerns about putting fracking wastewater underground permanently. So their energy bill now allows for the injection of water back into the wells.

As if to signal they believe that what they don’t know won’t hurt them, the same GOP bill that takes care of the frackers also cuts two people from the N.C. Mining & Energy Commission, which was charged with writing regulations about shale gas exploration. One of those people cut is the state geologist.

Isn’t that a little like scheduling a brain operation and dismissing the neurologist from the team?

At best, and best is not at all a certainty, it would be years before any financial benefit from fracking were realized. And natural gas prices are low now because of abundant supply

There is no urgency to make these environmentally risky moves, beyond some burning desire to push for onshore and offshore energy exploration with other East Coast states.

Republican leaders in the General Assembly say they’re in search of jobs. But nobody really knows how many jobs would be created with fracking, and certainly there would not be many if it turned out that North Carolina’s natural gas resources aren’t all that pro-drilling optimists hope they are.

In any effort to recover energy resources, there needs to be restraint and realism. This seems to have been forgotten in the fracking debate. Another not-insignificant factor that must be considered is that North Carolina’s natural resources, from beaches to sandhills resorts to mountains, are great generators of jobs in the tourism industry as they stand now.

A chemical spill, or an instability created by fracking, would put those resources and, yes, those jobs, in danger.

Those who continue to push fracking as some kind of economic savior need to take off the blinders and acknowledge some of the risks and potential problems and consider the consequences if, as is usually the case with any such endeavor, things don’t go exactly as planned.

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