Regarding the Sept. 9 Point of View piece “ The bounty beneath North Carolina soil”: David McGowan, executive director of the N.C. Petroleum Council, painted a very optimistic picture for “fracking” in N.C. However, there are many relevant points he failed to mention.
• His claim that there are 1.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Deep River Basin extending from Durham to the S.C. border is not certain. The 2012 U.S. Geological Survey report from which that number is taken shows this is an average estimate of undiscovered but recoverable resources. In the USGS report, the probability of recovering that amount of gas is less than 50 percent.
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By comparison, Terry Englander and Craig Lash of Pennsylvania State and SUNY, respectively, have estimated that the Marcellus Shale Basin has as much as 500 Tcf of gas, of which about 50 Tcf are recoverable. This is close to the USGS 2011 estimate of 84 Tcf for recoverable gas at Marcellus. The estimate for the recoverable gas from the Bakken Shale Basin is about 6.7 Tcf. In short, we don’t know exactly how much gas is available in the N.C. reserves, but it is much less than other large gas shale plays in the U.S.
• McGowan says that the risks to the N.C. environment are small and that there is no evidence of contamination of groundwater by fracking. This seems to run contrary to the USA Today article “4 states confirm water pollution from drilling” published in January. This also seems to run contrary to more than 800 cases of environmental damage and health effects reported by thePennsylvania Alliance for Clean Water and Air
, to the 1,400 environmental violations and the $25.7 million in fines reported in Pennsylvania
and to the 4,600 environmental violations in Ohio since 2001
What makes McGowan think that North Carolina’s experience will be any different from those, particularly if the companies at play in N.C. are smaller and without the resources and corporate will to abide by environmental regulations? McGowan does not mention how the recovered water and fracking fluid will be handled. Will it be held in ponds like coal ash or in containers? What about spills or methane leaks or other accidents?
• McGowan talks about the wonderful job opportunities with average wages close to $40 a hour, but he fails to mention these jobs have a productivity life of only five to 10 years or the risks involved. The mortality rate for oil and gas workers is about 8 times the all-industry average of 3.2 workers per 100,000. So, we will have these wonderful jobs but with a greater risk for accidents?
• McGowan doesn’t tell us that fracking regulations are being diluted and will not be the “strictest in the nation” as promised.
There are many things McGowan has not told us that make his rosy picture of fracking suspect.
Dr. Michael Timmons
Retired research engineer, RTI, Durham
The length limit was waived to permit a fuller reponse to the Point of View.