Treasure lies beneath North Carolina. From Durham to the South Carolina border stretches the 150-mile Deep River Basin, which contains 1.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. When drilling begins next year, North Carolina will be joining in on the energy boom taking place across the United States.
Earlier this summer, Gov. Pat McCrory signed legislation terminating both a 2012 moratorium and a decade-old ban on hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” Fracking, used since the 1940s, is an engineering process that involves drilling thousands of feet underground and pumping in water and sand, along with a minuscule amount of lubricants and other compounds, to break open shale stone and release trapped natural gas and oil.
Critics of fracking have cited possible environmental damage and the costs to local municipalities of an energy gold rush. Yet on balance, the evidence clearly shows that our state legislature and governor were wise in allowing fracking to go forward.
“If we have deposits (of shale gas), and it appears we do from the geology, and you look at what’s occurred in other states, the opportunity is to create a whole new jobs sector in North Carolina,” state Senate President Phil Berger said recently. Indeed, when states like North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Texas chose to develop their energy sector with fracking technology, their state economies experienced quick and dramatic benefits.
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Already, more than two dozen states allow fracking, firmly establishing the U.S. as a global energy superpower. The use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing today supports more than 2 million jobs, projected to rise to nearly 4 million jobs by 2025. Today, thousands of jobs in North Carolina already exist as part of the supply chain for producing oil and natural gas, and thousands more could be created if the state begins to produce America’s energy.
For many, these jobs will be a ticket to the American dream. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has noted that the average worker in oil and gas extraction earns $39.28 per hour, and many positions require only vocational training or an associate’s degree. These are also jobs with a future. As the United States struggled through a harsh recession and feeble recovery from 2008 to 2013, the energy sector’s employment spiked by an impressive 40 percent.
Job creation isn’t the only advantage of fracking. Land owners will benefit from leases and royalties as they allow energy companies to access the resources thousands of feet beneath their properties.
Mike Walden, an economist at N.C. State University, recently estimated that gas-well construction and drilling operations alone would result in an additional $80 million in economic activity each year in North Carolina.
And as the United States taps into its bountiful resources, American families also benefit from lower prices. Domestic natural-gas production has already decreased annual energy bills for American households by $1,200 a year, and utility bills are likely to drop even further.
While critics have claimed that these gains would be mitigated by wear and tear on local roads, sewer expansion and other inevitable expenses associated with a growing economy, a recent study by Duke University researchers found that fracking actually improves municipal finances. It concluded that North Carolina cities and towns will still come out ahead even taking into consideration all incidental expenses linked to energy exploration.
Moreover, there’s ample reason to believe North Carolina can enjoy these benefits without posing a risk to the environment. In the past two years, the state’s Mining and Energy Commission has carefully drafted more than 100 rules to govern the operations of the energy industry.
North Carolina is in the process of adopting some of the strictest groundwater-testing provisions in the United States. And various federal officials have stated time and again that no case has demonstrated that fracking has caused groundwater contamination.
Given that fracking operations have been performed well over a million times, the industry and government regulators have a proven track record of strong environmental performance.
It’s little wonder that the North Carolinians who have the facts about fracking support it. According to a Harris Interactive telephone poll conducted last year, 92 percent of respondents acknowledge the positive effects on employment. Support for fracking in North Carolina outpolled opposition by nearly 3 to 1.
Thanks to responsible and efficient development of our energy resources, the years ahead for North Carolina are going to be among the best our state has ever had.
David McGowan is the executive director of the North Carolina Petroleum Council.