State fracking study does not support its conclusion

There’s a significant disconnect between state officials who claim fracking can be conducted safely in North Carolina and the evidence, or lack thereof, contained in their own recently released 350-page study of the issue.

I have just read the “N.C. Oil and Gas Study” conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Commerce.  Regarding their findings, I can only say, with apologies to Gertrude Stein, “There’s no there there.”

In fact, the page dedicated to answering the troubling question of how to protect the rights of rural landowners is actually blank, except for one sentence. It states: “This section has not yet been provided by the Department of Justice.”

Never mind that the industry has already leased a significant amount of land in Lee county without any regulatory protections in place.   The blank page in the report says it all: It’s as if someone expects answers to fall out of the sky at some convenient point in the future, apparently after the state legislature decides to make fracking legal in North Carolina.

What’s more, on the environmental safety questions, the report shows that DENR, like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, does not have sufficient information at this stage about the use of this new technology to make any claims about its safety.

Yet, despite these inconvenient information gaps, the report concludes: “DENR believes hydraulic fracturing can be done safely as long as the right protections are in place.”

The problem is,  DENR did not provide the scientific evidence required to support this belief. As this report acknowledged, “[T]his analysis is constrained by the limited information available at this time.”

I thought DENR was a fact-based, not a “belief-based,” organization. EPA, with considerably more scientific resources at its disposal, will not even complete its study of just one issue regarding fracking – water quality – until 2014. Yet with $100,000 spent over a few months of internet “research,” DENR is willing to express its “belief” about areas the EPA has yet to address.

I recall House Speaker Thom Tillis responding to my question about fracking at a forum in Pittsboro, saying that he was open to hearing “the business case” for or against fracking.  Yet, the Department of Commerce, in its section of the state report, was not able to make a case one way or the other.

The report’s economics review section reads:  This analysis is not intended to indicate a position by the North Carolina Department of Commerce (Commerce) for or against…”

Maybe I’m missing something, but I thought the whole point of this study was to determine whether it was prudent for the state to authorize hydraulic fracturing, based on conclusions about likely economic, environmental and health impacts.

The problem, of course, as Commerce concluded, is: “Until the industry is more developed, and economic and multiplier relationships are better represented in the data, model outputs will not be robust.”  In other words, they do not have enough information to predict economic impacts.

At best, Commerce projected that fracking might result in an additional 858 jobs statewide after six years. That’s not much of an economic benefit considering the unknown potential economic costs. In addition to the concerns about groundwater pollution, the other unknowns not taken up in the study include impacts on competing industries (such as local farms, wineries and other tourist attractions) and state and local costs for impacts to other infrastructure (especially roads) and services (law enforcement, schools, etc.).

I appreciate the hard work DENR and Commerce employees put into this rushed and underfinanced study. But it’s an affront to all North Carolinians that the objective contents of the study were ignored or distorted to reach an unsupported conclusion.

The only real conclusion one can draw from this study is that we still don’t know enough about the true economic, environmental and health costs to authorize hydraulic fracturing for gas anywhere in North Carolina.

–Jeff Starkweather, prepared for DENR Public Hearing on Fracking Study, March 20, 2012 in Sanford.

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Pittsboro urges legislature to say ‘no’ to fracking

Thumbs up to the Pittsboro Town Board for passing a resolution tonight that urges the North Carolina General Assembly to  maintain current laws saying no to fracking anywhere in our state. The Board voted 5-0 after hearing from more than half a dozen local residents, including me, who expressed concerns about the negative impacts fracking could have on Pittsboro’s environment, groundwater, public health, economic development, sustainable agriculture and unique quality of life.

Citizens testifying about the dangers of fracking included Gary Simpson from Chatham Citizens for Effective Communities, Haw Riverkeeper Elaine Chiosso,  Colleen Kendrick of the Deep River Clean Water Society, John Wegner, Barb Tessa and others.

Here’s the resolution:

“Whereas hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ is a method of extracting natural gas that involves injecting at an extremely high pressure, an undisclosed mixture of water, sand, and toxic chemicals to break up shale or other rock formations otherwise impermeable to the flow of gas;

“Whereas, North Carolina does not currently allow either horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing, and the current North Carolina study of in-state shale gas resources and of the potential impacts of reversing this ban and allowing drilling and fracking to extract these resources is being undertaken without adequate funding and without adequate time;

“Now Therefore Be It Resolved that we, the members of the Town of Pittsboro Board of Commissioners urge the North Carolina General Assembly to maintain current laws in North Carolina that prevent hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in the State and to take no action that would weaken these laws before it is fully demonstrated that North Carolina public health, waters, land, air, economy and qualify of life can be fully protected from impacts of allowing shale gas development in the state.”

–Jeff

Restoring the dream for all

We had an amazing turnout out at our Campaign Blast-Off Party on Sunday with old friends and new ones. Everyone was enthusiastic and generous, for which I am most grateful. Here’s a copy of my statement.

Before I begin, I’d like us to take a moment of silence to remember three amazing women who inspired many of us, who mentored me in many ways: Margie Ellison, Loyse Hurley, and Margaret Pollard. Their legacy is all around us and their energy still influences us. ..

First, I want you to know how humbling it is for me to have this opportunity to seek this State House seat, held by former Speaker of the House Joe Hackney for 32 years.

I am so appreciative of Democratic Party Chair Randy Voller and other party and political leaders in our county who lobbied me to run for this office.

It will be an incredible honor and responsibility to represent you and all the residents of this House district.

I am overwhelmed by the support I’ve received already from across a broad political and geographic spectrum. And I am grateful to every one of you.

I’d also like to recognize my family: my wife Dee, my daughter Emily and her husband Scott, and our granddaughters Ryan and Emery. My son Sam, the poet, lives in New York and isn’t able to be here today. It’s amazing to me that we now have three generations of our family living right here in Chatham.

This campaign is not about me, it’s about you, about all of us. We’re facing hard times and difficult choices about what to do to strengthen our community and our state.

I want to use my four decades of local advocacy to keep fighting for all of us — in Raleigh — for the things we all cherish, the things we know we need to make our wonderful communities be more sustainable economically, educationally and environmentally, so that we all may prosper.

What do we need to do?

First and foremost, we need to support our public schools, from pre-K through community college and universities.

We should be investing in our public schools– not starving them.

Thanks to the Tea Party, the leadership in the General Assembly is doing the opposite of what is most needed at this time.They are slashing support for public schools– the very foundation of our economic and democratic prosperity.

The current legislative majority should be ashamed of our per-pupil expenditures, where we seem to be racing to the bottom of all 50 states — instead of to the top. Some of them want to privatize education, which means if you can’t afford to go to school, well “You’re on your own.”

That seems to be their platform in N.C. and in Washington.  That’s not what my campaign is about.

Second, we must support local businesses and work strategically to attract good jobs for all North Carolinians.The right-wing leadership in Raleigh thinks the government’s role is to do nothing and somehow hope the jobs will materialize. Except of course when it comes to public jobs, then they want to cut them. So instead of creating jobs, they’ve actually been eliminating them.

I guess Sarah Palin might say, “How is that job-cutty thing working out for you here in North Carolina?” We know the answer to that one.

I believe in strategic economic development, that emphasizes our local strengths and our premium location. I’ve been working hard on that here through the Chatham Economic Development Corporation, and I will continue to do that in Raleigh for both Chatham and Lee.

Third, we must protect our clean air and water, our parks and natural beauty, because this is what makes this a stellar place to live and locate a business. This is why we need to stop the fracking frenzy.

Good businesses don’t want to locate in a place with polluted drinking water and smog.

We don’t have enough information about underground hydraulic fracturing in NC. So, let’s do our homework first, and don’t rush into something that could destroy what makes us strong.

Making us strong– that’s what my campaign is about: Strong schools, good jobs, clean air and water.

These are the keys to restoring the dream of upward mobility for all.

The American Dream is not just for the privileged few, it’s for the rest of us, too –all of us

It’s also time for us to pull together. The right-wing conservatives, Tea Party sippers, seem committed to a social agenda designed to divide us. They’ve launched a war against women, minorities and gays.

They want to take us back to the 1950s when people didn’t think women should have access to contraceptives.

Like you, I was appalled that Rush Limbaugh could stoop so low to have made that indecent attack on a law student who had the courage to challenge the attempt to deny contraceptive insurance coverage to college women attending religious affiliated schools.I promise you today that nobody in the General Assembly will fight any harder than I will against these attempts to turn-back the clock on women’s reproductive rights.

Instead of talking about jobs, these reactionary forces have been hyperventilating about social issues designed to keep us divided and distracted. That’s wrong. It’s got to stop. We deserve better.

I was extremely fortunate to grow up in a place and during a time when job opportunity, security and wages rose along with our increased productivity.

Democrats, Republican and independents came together and supported government investment in the G.I. Bill, education, highways, other infrastructure, and parks – what we call the commons. That was indispensible for making the American Dream possible for the average working person, like my father, a plant foreman and late maintenance director.

Granted, it was not as good for minorities and women back then –but the principle of public investment for a growing economy is valid today.

My view is that now it’s time to work together again and to include everyone in the American Dream.

If we work with each other not against each other, and if we work hard and we remember to give back to our communities for the common good, we will all prosper together and our communities will remain vibrant places to live, play and work.

That’s what my working-class Baptist parents taught me to believe. And that’s why I’m stunned to see people who describe themselves as conservatives working against that most fundamental notion of the golden rule.

Finally, politics is also personal for me, as I bet it is for you, too.

I’ve got two grandchildren whose hopeful faces remind me every day that we must work together for the future, for the long-term, for an economy built to last.

That’s my vision. That’s why I’m running.

That’s why I want to work for you in Raleigh.

–Jeff

Candidate kicks off campaign March 4

From the Chatham News Record, March 1, 2012:

Jeff Starkweather is officially launching his campaign for the open seat in NC House District 54 with a free, public kick-off party on Sunday March 4, from 4 to 7 pm in Pittsboro. The festivities are free and open to the public and will feature live music, light refreshments and a chance to exchange ideas with the candidate. The location is 697 Hillsboro Street, the former Pittsboro Chevrolet showroom just north of Chatham Mills.

Starkweather, a long-time community advocate and retired newspaper publisher and attorney in Pittsboro is running in the May 8 Democratic primary. The new district covers all of Chatham County and a portion of the Sanford area in Lee County.

“We’ve been so fortunate to have Joe Hackney and Bob Atwater fighting for our vital needs over the years,” Starkweather said. “It will take many strong advocates working together to fill their big shoes when they step down from their legislative posts at the end of the year. But I am eager and ready to do my part, and I will work tirelessly for our district and our state.

“I spent my entire career fighting for fair treatment for all people and communities,” he said.  “Now I want to bring fairness and civic responsibility back into the public debate.

“We need to strengthen our public schools from pre-K through community college and university levels  — not starve them,” he said.

“We need to work strategically to support local businesses and attract clean industries — not simply wait for the jobs to show up. And we need to protect the natural environment that makes our state a stellar place to live and work, considered one of the best locations in the nation,” he said.

“Above all, we need to restore the promise of upward mobility for all,” he said. “The American Dream is not just for the privileged few.”

“If we do these things by working with each other– not against each other– our economy and our democracy will thrive again now and for future generations.”