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What the frack?

April 8, 2010

The rush for “alternate” sources of energy is on, and it seems no one is safe.   State geologists have discovered that beneath the triangle lie vast deposits of natural gas in a narrow band of prehistoric geological formations, enough to apparently serve the state’s entire energy needs for up to 40 years.  This energy doesn’t come without a cost, however, as the process used to extract the fossil fuel is intensive and loosely regulated, involved injecting massive amounts of water into the ground to break up the shale within which holds the sweet sweet gas.  This process, called hydraulic fracturing or fracking, is a recently developed process that has made gas deposits previously thought to be too difficult to access accessible.  The process is not without issues, however.

The water injected into the ground usually contains chemicals that are known carcinogens and that contain heavy metals.  How much is not known as the mining companies are not required to disclose specifically what additives are used.  In fact, hydraulic fracturing is scarcely regulated by the EPA at all, thanks to a study undertaken by the notoriously industry friendly EPA of the Bush Administration.  This toxic mixture can then get into the ground water supply affecting the people of the triangle.

That’s troubling enough, but more concerning for this part of the country is that millions of gallons of water will have to be put aside in a region that is already susceptible to harsh droughts.  Most of North Carolina suffered severely during a drought in 2007 that left the city of Raleigh with less than 100 days of water remaining before finally breaking.  It’s difficult to consider what would have happened if that water was being siphoned off to shoot into the ground for gas retrieval.  It seems fairly obvious that the two commodities are not always going to be compatible, and very difficult decisions will have to be made down the line should natural gas mining come to North Carolina.  It’s sort of shocking that more state officials let the money blind them to this fact.

Currently, North Carolina state law doesn’t allow hydraulic fracturing and there’s no evidence that extraction companies are lobbying state legislators to change that yet.  This has slowed the rush to North Carolina, and allowed environmental interests to rally.  At the very least, repeal of the current bans should include regulations that require the mining operations to disclose the chemicals they use.  The new EPA is currently reviewing policies on hydrofracking to assess the affects on drinking water, a review that’s been a long time coming.

So is natural gas development coming to North Carolina? I certainly hope not.  The intensive and toxic process in an area of such high population density seems fraught with risk to me.  This area of development contains nearly 1.5 million people in a region already having trouble dealing with the consequences of such a large population.  This is a terrible idea.  But given the insatiable thirst for fossil fuels, it may only be a matter of time.

  1. April 8, 2010 7:56 am

    “It may only be a matter of time.”

    I agree. It will be done. The only positive thing time can bring is a more environment friendly – or rather less dangerous – technique.

  2. April 8, 2010 4:08 pm

    Holy man, no one is safe! It’s a huge (meaning HUGE) issue right now in my hometown, region, and state, and it’s something to be extremely worried about. I’ve been educating myself over the past year and it is frightening what “they” want to do — not to mention the number of folks with dollar signs in their eyes who want to let them!

    Good luck. I’ll be updating what’s going on around here — poisoning the water supply is only one concern.

  3. April 8, 2010 4:17 pm

    Its a big issue in NY for the same exact reasons. Thankfully NYS Government is so messed up, it will take years for the proper permits before the first jet of water hits the ground. By then, hopefully people will wake up and see how dangerous this stuff is.

  4. Nate permalink*
    April 8, 2010 5:04 pm

    @Jochen- Sadly, when big mining finds something it wants, it gets it eventually.

    @Mike- Yeah, I thought of you when I read this considering what we talked about in Massachusetts. I look forward to hearing about your experiences.

    @Will- Drilling in NC is still a ways off, I think. They would have to change the law banning hydrofracking which would require a lot of political will. But the fact that they’re even considering it is scary.

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