MOREHEAD CITY | Lee County is considered the epicenter of any future fracking operations in North Carolina, but Eastern North Carolina isn’t immune to possibly damaging impacts, according to leaders fighting to keep such activity out of the state.
“That’s just where fracking itself may happen,” said George Mathis of Frack-Free NC, referring to a map of areas of North Carolina potentially containing shale gas. “Just about anywhere in the state can be impacted in one way or another.”
A program entitled Keep NC Frack-Free was held Friday in Carteret County and sponsored by the Unitarian Coastal Fellowship Green Sanctuary Committee and the Croatan Group of the Sierra Club.
Frack-Free NC is a network of organizations that believe that shale gas development using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, cannot be done without harming the environment and public health.
A primary concern is the potential for contamination of drinking water and groundwater if fracking is done in North Carolina.
Fracking is a method of extracting natural gas that involves injecting high pressure fluids thousands of feet deep with a mixture of water, sand and chemicals to break up shale formations and release natural gas.
Mathis said the Triassic basins of North Carolina are shallow and discontinuous compared to shale formations in other states, with less distance between these formations and groundwater supplies used for drinking water wells.
“More than 3 million people in North Carolina rely on private wells for drinking water,” he said. Fracking also requires a large amount of water for the process: an average of 3.5 million gallons is used per frack. Mathis said there are questions about where this water will come from and what it could mean to the state’s water supply and water resources. “Whose right is it to remove that water? Is it the fracking company or is it our right to speak out?” he asked.
Legislation signed into law last year opens the door for fracking in North Carolina and work in ongoing to develop regulations for such activities. For Eastern North Carolina, the uncertainties about fracking’s future in North Carolina raise questions about impacts away from the fracking sites. While the coast may not be prime for fracking locations, there are questions about the disposal of the wastewater from fracking and where and how that disposal would take place.
Mathis said the idea of storing frackwater in open pits until transported to whatever waste processing facility has been discussed in rule-making process. Spills do happen, Mathis said, referring to the hog lagoon spills of the past in Eastern North Carolina. And even if there is not a spill, an open pit means evaporation of chemical-filled wastewater into the air, creating air pollution.
Deep injection into wells has been the preferred method for disposal by the industry, but North Carolina’s history with such activity has not been good, Mathis said. It was permitted from 1968 to 1972 and wells about four miles from Wilmington were used by Hercules, a company that manufactures the raw materials used in the production of polyester fabrics. Underwater leakage from that chemical injection process led to a ban on deep injection wells in North Carolina.
The question is whether the ban will remain if fracking proceeds in North Carolina. “In North Carolina it’s not the first time we’ve dealt with injection wells. Here it is 2015 and the debate is still going on,” Mathis said.
If natural gas production occurs, Mathis said it’s also logical that processing facilities will be needed. And with a state port located in Morehead City, that could be a place to consider. “If they need to export natural gas, where’s a logical place to put a facility?” he asked.
Information on fracking and the efforts of the coalition can be found online at frackfreenc.org.
Explanatory picture from News & Observer: