Don’t fast-track fracking in NC

Last week I attended a scientific workshop at Duke University on fracking, along with many concerned local citizens and officials. The evidence presented included new information about toxic water flowback and greenhouse gas emissions, which reinforced my view that the legislature should not try to fast-track fracking in North Carolina as many Republicans seem to want to do. Instead, there should be a moratorium on any legislation to allow fracking until there is sufficient experience and research to show that this technology is safe and will bring more economic and environmental benefits than costs.

I have spoken out on several occasions about the need to be very cautious about fracking, due to ongoing pressures to frack for shale gas in large tracts of Chatham and Lee counties that are part of our new state House district.

As Lisa Sorg of the Independent Weekly wrote last week about the Duke workshop: “If anyone in the General Assembly listened to the scientists at the hydraulic fracturing workshop at Duke… then any pro-fracking legislation should be dead in North Carolina.”

Scientists at the Duke workshop presented new information about the negative impact that flowback from fracking wells can have on local water quality. The flowback contains water, oil, and toxic chemicals, including barium, arsenic, lead and bromide.  Based on undisputed scientific presentations, there does not appear to be a safe way to dispose of or treat this wastewater.  Injecting it back into the ground can contaminate groundwater. Moreover, such deep underground injections can cause earthquakes, as was recently demonstrated in Ohio. Discharging wastewater in nearby rivers and streams has been shown to harm the ecosystem for up to a third of a mile from the discharge point.

At this time there are no cost-effective methods to treat the flowback. Re-use has not been proven effective either and raises concerns about storage and transportation spills and leakages.

A second new scientific finding presented at Duke concerns the impact of fracking on greenhouse gas emissions.  Robert Howarth, professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell, reported that green house gas emissions from shale gas fracking are 40% greater than emissions caused by the extraction of conventional gas and oil. He attributes this to venting of methane gas during drilling and the fact that methane contains about 72 times more greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide that is emitted from oil or coal production.

Susan Christopherson, professor of city and regional Planning at Cornell, reinforced what I had previously heard: There is a serious question whether a fracking resource extraction economy provides more benefits than costs, in part because it produces few jobs for local people.

Finally, I learned that the EPA’s scientific study of the potential impact of fracking on water quality will not be completed until 2012. This study will include existing data, retrospective and prospective case studies of actual fracking operations, water modeling and laboratory studies.

North Carolina should not proceed with any plans for fracking until this study is concluded and then only if it provides evidence that it can be done safely and economically.

–Jeff Starkweather

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