The word “fracking” seems to have stirred up more furor in North Carolina than the actual process itself.
The only place in the state where actual fracking is possible centers on Lee and adjoining counties. They are in the Sanford sub-basin of the Deep River basin, which developed about 200 million years ago when the Atlantic Ocean opened. As North America and Africa pulled apart to form the ocean, small “rift basins” developed in eastern North America. These basins accumulated small amounts of organic material, and the Sanford sub-basin contains poor-quality coal.
Despite this geographic limitation, meetings about fracking have been held in several parts of North Carolina. More than 100,000 people from all parts of the state have submitted their opinions about fracking. Most are vigorously opposed to fracking anywhere in the state.
While this obsession has gone on, Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas hired Dominion (headquartered in Virginia) to build a pipeline to bring natural gas to Eastern North Carolina from sources to the north. These sources include large reservoirs of natural gas that is released by fracking.
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The same data can be used by pro- and anti-fracking enthusiasts. My son Peter, on the Colgate faculty, discovered this when he compiled pro- and anti-fracking maps for western New York.
Now, listen up, North Carolinians. Fracking is done only if it produces a profit. But people in the mountains are concerned, particularly about areas where Precambrian rocks crop out. People in the Piedmont are concerned about the metamorphic rocks that underlie the whole area.
In any of these areas, there is no oil or gas to be produced. That is, there is no profit.
Furthermore, our obsession with fracking has brought serious consequences. Far more serious is the lack of attention that we are paying to sustainable energy.
The North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association summarizes numerous sources of energy that do not depend on fossil fuels. They include solar power, wind, nuclear power, biomass and geothermal energy.
Much of this energy is directed toward the production of electricity. Unless it is produced by hydropower, all electricity requires boiling water. Most of the boiling is now accomplished by coal and natural gas, and NCSEA shows methods that do not produce any greenhouse gases. These “alternative” sources can also provide more local energy, for example by attaching solar panels to individual houses.
All of the individual sustainable energies have support organizations of their own. They join NCSEA in polling state residents. All sustainable energy sources, except nuclear, are supported by more than 80 percent of the people polled. North Carolinians are interested in developing energy sources that will make us independent of imports. Furthermore, several of America’s largest data-handling companies, all of which use a lot of electricity, are building plants in North Carolina and asking for electricity produced by sustainable resources rather than by fossil fuels.
We have a lot to think about and have to forget about fracking.
John J.W. Rogers is a distinguished professor of geology emeritus at UNC-Chapel Hill.