Point of View

Faulty math amid other fracking frights

June 26, 2013 

During the crafting of the original Senate Bill 76 – the Domestic Energy Job Act Bill – senators used extremely faulty math in explaining the benefits and then passed an unsafe version of the bill.

When a committee convenes to resolve differences between the Senate bill and a House bill, these senators must be called out.

Senators exaggerated how much fracking would positively affect our economy. They indicated the largest fracking states averaged 5 percent unemployment compared with North Carolina’s current rate of 8.9 percent. They claimed “this is what N.C. needs.”

A thorough and objective investigation produced by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 2012 stated the Department of Commerce “estimates drilling activities in the Sanford sub basin would sustain an average of 387 jobs per annum over the seven-year time period.”

Do the math. With about 4.7 million North Carolinians in the work force or looking for jobs, the 387 additional fracking jobs represent a 0.0082 percent increase in new direct jobs, most of these for experienced out-of-state workers. Even if every direct job created an additional indirect job, that represents only a 0.016 percent employment increase. These job numbers make almost no effect on our unemployment figures.

The DENR report also identified other major issues:

•  Drinking water contamination. Fluids used in fracking contain toxic chemicals, carcinogens and radioactive materials (brought up from underground). In N.C., there is “much less separation between groundwater used for drinking water and the gas-producing layer than in other gas-producing states.” Water supply wells of up to 1,000 feet deep are common in North Carolina. By contrast, the Pennsylvania shale gas resource lies at depths of roughly 10,000 feet or more, and the deepest water supply wells are generally no more than 600 feet deep. Experts recommend a separation of at least 2,000 feet between the top of the shale and the lowest point of the aquifer/water table.

Do the math. Geological studies show separation between drinking water resources and the gas-producing (fracking) zone is zero in Chatham County, home of Jordan Lake Reservoir, a major source of drinking water for the Triangle. Without some sort of setback, contaminated drinking water is all but assured. Neither the EPA nor the Army Corps of Engineers has setbacks around Jordan Lake Reservoir and its tributaries, with none planned.

•  Earthquakes and wastewater disposal. The DENR report found in 2012 that “most of the earthquakes that occurred directly from fracking operations were between 1 and 2.4 on the Richter scale.” However, higher magnitude earthquakes have since been linked to the disposal of wastewater in fracking operations. Studies have shown that the injection of toxic fluids produced quakes as strong as 5.7 and 6 on the Richter scale.

If deep well injection of the millions of gallons of fracking wastewater is allowed, the situation becomes disastrous. The area to be fracked in N.C. contains the Shearon Harris nuclear power plant, the nation’s largest repository of radioactive spent nuclear control rods, just 2 miles from the Jonesboro fault line. This power plant was built to withstand an earthquake of 6.1.

Do the math. Earthquakes, particularly those of a larger magnitude, risk the possibility of uncovering the radioactive spent control rods and unleashing a nuclear incident. North Carolina must provide adequate setbacks to prevent fracking and wastewater disposal around power plants and fault lines.

There is no simple solution to dispose of toxic and radioactive waste from fracking. If deep well injection is outlawed as it should be, recycled fracking waste will go into cleansing units that produce sludge containing toxic chemicals, carcinogens and radioactive materials, which is then compacted and put in landfills. The EPA states: “No liner … can keep all liquids out of the ground for all time. Eventually liners will either degrade, tear, or crack and will allow liquids to migrate out of the unit.”

The least dangerous method for disposing of deadly fracking fluids must be investigated. Disclosure of the contents of the deadly chemicals for first responders and emergency medical workers must be made mandatory.

The House-Senate committee clearly has a lot on its plate, but first and foremost it should look to the solid ground work of the DENR report and do the math.

Charles Ritter, a retired aerospace design engineer, lives in Cary.

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