The debate over hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is heating up in North Carolina. The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has the task of preparing a study for lawmakers as they consider whether to allow the controversial drilling technique. A final report is due in less than a year. Critics of “fracking” want the state to slow down.
Geologists say there are several counties in North Carolina where deposits of natural gas are buried. But there are three counties where there is a lot of it – Lee, Chatham and Moore counties. Sanford seems to be a hot spot.
Ted Feitshans: "It could mean a lot of money or it could mean a lot of heart ache."
Ted Feitshans is an Extension Associate Professor at N-C State. He says North Carolinians have known about hydro-carbon deposits in Lee County for well over 100 years. There was even a coal mining industry in the area until a deadly accident in the 1920s. But resources that were once hard to get to, have been made more accessible with hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking.” John Larsen explains on the PBS investigative report – “The Price of Gas.”
John Larsen: "To frack a well, drillers blast millions of gallons of water, mixed with sand and chemicals deep into the ground. That creates fractures in the rock and releases the gas. It’s used to reach once inaccessible gas reserves in a vast area that includes 31 states and the Gulf of Mexico."
The report goes on to say, “fracking” has become “the essential process in producing new reserves of natural gas in the United States.” State Senator Bob Rucho is a Republican from Mecklenburg County. He introduced Senate Bill 709 - the Energy Jobs Act which is behind the DENR Study. Here is Rucho with Kelly McCullen on UNC-TV’s “Legislative Week in Review.”
Bob Rucho: "We want to find out if there are resources out there worth the industry and the state of North Carolina investing in."
Kelly McCullen: "What is it worth, hundreds of millions, billions of dollars?"
Bob Rucho: "Well, yeah, probably we’re talking about trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, which would be a great boon."
And it’s the money that’s got folks in Sanford talking. Susan Condlin is the Lee County Extension Director.
Susan Condlin: "It is becoming a bigger issue. I know we started hearing about it in January 2010. We started seeing companies coming in, putting ads in the paper, talking about they wanted to lease your mineral rights. What is this? What’s going on?"
Condlin says she is concerned on several fronts. She says the excitement over valuable reserves may be moving the process along too fast. Condlin worries people don’t have enough information about “fracking” or their rights as landowners.
Susan Condlin: "And that’s what we’re most concerned about, is with these leases that are coming. What are you doing? What are you signing? Do you even own your own mineral rights? This is a big question here."
On a recent evening, the McSwain Extension Education and Ag Center was over-flowing with people wanting to find out the latest on the “fracking” front. Robin Smith is Assistant Secretary for Environment at DENR. This was the first of at least two public hearings on the study. Most people were concerned over potential damage to water quality in the areas where drilling could take place. There have been problems in several states – including Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. Smith says the study is on track.
Robin Smith: " It was exactly what we were hoping to get which were suggestions of things we may not have thought of or may not have thought of in as much detail we need to cover in the study."
The study is supposed to be complete by May 1, 2012. James Gaster attended last week’s public hearing, but chose not to speak. He owns hundreds of acres in Lee County and has been approached about leasing his land. Gaster is not ready to decide yet.
James Gaster: " I know a lot of people who are very much against it. But you know, we’re all going to go out here and get in our cars, there’s gas in those cars. We’re not riding burrow back home so you have to be open minded. We need it, we need energy."
And no matter what side of “fracking” you’re on – it looks like you’re going to need a good lawyer.