A DANGEROUS RUSH TO DRILL: SB 820
Many concerns centered around the formation of a 9 member Mining and Energy Commission, 7 of which would be drilling industry experts. Duke University scientist Rob Jackson stated that allowing people who profit from an industry to regulate the same industry historically leads to poor health and environmental outcomes. Representatives from the NC League of Municipalities and the NC association of county commissioners advocated for more local control, while Andy Wilkinson, the Pinehurst City Manager, suggested that a local voice to be added to the commission to ensure communities could be represented. Laura Johnson, a Lee County landowner, brought a local voice to the problems with the law, stating that the current law was like a “noose hanging over her” because it allows fracking companies to take over her land via eminent domain and limits her bargaining rights because her neighbors have already agreed to lease their land.
Another major concern was that the regulations would become obsolete within two years due to the emerging science around fracking. Evolving science includes a major US geological study assessing the impacts of fracking upon ground water quality that will not be available until 2014, a more comprehensive assessment of natural gas supplies in the state that have recently been downgraded from a 40 year supply to a 1-5 year supply, and a full examination of the state’s subsurface geological formations that makes drilling more dangerous than in other states. In their rush to drill legislators are forcing regulators to make rules based upon limited and constantly changing scientific data by 2014.
Even Senator Rucho, the bill’s sponsor, agrees that extensive regulation of fracking will be necessary, suggesting that it would take “close to 9,000 pages” of rules. Despite acknowledging that, citizens and scientists have been consistently ignored in the bill drafting process. Thus, the current bill falls far short of what it would take to safeguard our natural heritage, citizens’ legal recourse in case of damages, and public health, and, in many cases goes against the recommendations of our scientific experts at DENR.
Jobs? Not for Long, Not for North Carolinians, says Math
Proponents of the bill chant “jobs jobs jobs,” but the math tells a different story. SB 820 is projected by the NC Department of Natural Resources to create 387 jobs, a large portion of which would have to go to out-of-state workers with drilling experience. And, these jobs aren’t even permanent: they will last only as long as the supply of natural gas, which has recently been downgraded by DENR from a 40 year supply to a 1 to 5 year supply.
Many of these jobs won’t even go to North Carolinians! One of the two pro-fracking advocates in the public hearing on June the 5th cited a study out of Pennsylvania saying that approximately 70% of fracking jobs go to in-state workers. Another study from Pennsylvania suggests that only 20 to 30 percent of fracking jobs go to out-of-state workers. These studies appear to be biased based upon points of view, but if you settle somewhere in the middle for North Carolina, projecting that 50% of jobs go to in-state workers, then you’ve got less than 200 jobs for North Carolinians that will last for 1 to 5 years.
Other problems with the bill include:
- No disclosure of potentially harmful fracking fluids that have caused health problems in other states, no avenues for citizens and doctors to determine the effects of these chemicals on public health, and no long term tracking of public health effects.
- No provisions for collecting baseline water and soil data to track the environmental and health effects of fracking.
- Pre-emption of local authority. If a municipality or county does not want to frack, then big government will make sure that the locals have no control over the process.
- Inadequate provisions for the management of produced waters that may contain naturally occurring radioactive materials that could enter into the water supply or accrue on drilling equipment, potentially posing very long term health risks.
- Green lighting the re-injection of produced waters into wells that may contaminate water supplies.
- No mention of the effects of noise and lighting that have caused private property values to plummet in other states.
- Limiting the input of scientific experts at DENR by authorizing a Mining and Eneryg Commission.
- Lifiting the fracking ban before solid regulation is in place.
- Poor mandates for well construction standards. Poorly constructed wells mean public health and environmental risks for years to come, and the SB 820 barely touches on this problem.
- An unrealistically fast and very expensive plan to craft regulation. Writing 9,000 pages of solid regulation in two years with constantly changing scientific information with current DENR staff is close to impossible, and paying for it to be done so fast with a 5 year supply of natural gas just isn’t worth it.
PROMOTE FRACKING & OFFSHORE DRILLING: S709, H242
Senate Bill 709, the so-called Energy Jobs Act, is less about jobs and more about threatening North Carolina’s groundwater supply and shorelines. The bill is a two-pronged assault on our state’s waters, both inland and off the coast. Sadly legislators are less concerned about the risks such drilling pose to the health and well being of not just individuals but of communities. In fact several local communities are already taking action to prevent the practice within their jurisdiction, and the state representatives should follow suite. Sadly though, the courtship by the oil industry has captured their hearts, despite there being more jobs and fewer risks associated with investments in renewable energy.
S709 also requires the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to conduct a natural gas fracking study, despite a recent report from Duke University showing elevated levels of methane in groundwater at fracking sites.
Earlier this week legislators convened in Raleigh with several veto overrides in mind, one in particular SB 709, would open up North Carolina to gas and oil exploration without the proper regulatory safeguards that protect citizens. Fortunately they were unable to gather the votes for the override, but that won't mean they won't attempt it again later, during the February session.
Additionally this week in Fracking news, experts gathered at Duke University to discuss the impacts fracking could have on the state. Experts evaluated the economic, social and environmental effects of the practice. None of what they discussed sounded particularly beneficial to the state, as even the studies on economic impacts on local communities that already frack in other states found that they tend to end up on worse positions than when they started.
For More Information Check out the Diane Rehm Interview: Natural Gas Promise and Perils