Natural Gas

An image of fracking natural gas
AP Images

In February, the N.C. Utilities Commission gave Duke Energy approval to build two natural gas-fired units at an Asheville power plant.  Natural gas is considered a "bridge fuel" between fossil fuels and renewable energy, but experts warn that it can actually be worse than coal for the environment. 

Cutting down on coal in Asheville stems from a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but relying on natural gas ignores dangerous emissions of methane. 

A Duke Energy power plant and coal ash ponds outside Asheville.
Zen Sutherland

Duke Energy Progress says it will convert another power plant from coal to natural gas.

Duke Energy's plans for the facility at Lake Julian in Asheville are another indication that the energy giant is increasingly relying on natural gas, in part because of its falling price. 

The utility calls the transition for Asheville a "win-win:" cleaner energy and more jobs. Environmentalists say natural gas has its own negative consequences.

Gasoline prices at the Carrboro Food Mart gas station in April 2013
Laura Candler

Gasoline and natural gas have hit record-low prices in the last few months. It was hailed as overwhelmingly good news for consumers and the economy.

But the price you pay at the pump may not be the real cost.

“So the real cost of that gallon of gas is the price you pay at the pump plus about four dollars,” says Drew Shindell, a professor of climate change at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

Shindell wrote a paper that calculates the “social cost” of energy, or the total cost to society.

A crude oil mining site in Oxnard, Calif.
Faces of Fracking

State environmental officials might not have to adopt air quality standards for fracking. A controversial measure that would passed a key committee in the legislature yesterday.

Rep. Mike Hagar (R-Rutherford), who sponsored the measure, says there are already federal rules governing air quality at fracking sites.

"We're not going to re-write rules that are already out there," he says. "That's inefficient. That costs the taxpayers money for people to go work doing stuff they don't need to do."

A Marcellus Shale drill rig in Pennsylvania used in the fracking process.
Ken Skipper, USGS

New research from Duke University's Energy Initiative shows that revenue from oil and gas drilling tends to cover its costs to local governments.

Policy Researcher Daniel Raimi says the drilling boom caused an enormous population boom and demanded expensive infrastructure upgrades in the remote Bakken Oil Fields of North Dakota.  But, he says, leases and taxes from the industry also increased the budgets of local governments.

Photo: A drilling site in northeastern Louisiana.
Daniel Foster via Flickr

A Duke University study exonerates hydraulic fracturing from contaminating drinking water at sites in Pennsylvania and Texas. Instead, researchers blame faulty shale gas wells for leaking methane into the water, sometimes making it flammable.

A picture of segments of pipeline.
Harald Hoyer / Creative Commons

Two North Carolina power companies have announced plans to build a pipeline, connecting to natural gas supplies in the Northeast. 

Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas say the pipeline will stretch 550 miles from eastern North Carolina to West Virginia.  That state has a distribution center that gathers natural gas from its own drilling operations, as well as those in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

A picture of two people shaking hands.
wikihow.com

Just a month after the General Assembly voted to allow fracking in North Carolina, landowners in Chapel Hill and Durham are receiving offers to buy the right to drill on their properties.

But these offers are suspicious, and the Department of Justice is investigating them. The documents say they were sent from a Pennsylvania company called Crimson Holding Corporation. It doesn't have a web site, and claims the same address as another company called Campbell Development. Neither is licensed to do business in this state.

A picture of segments of pipeline.
Harald Hoyer / Creative Commons

PSNC Energy is taking feedback from property owners about plans to lay a natural gas pipeline. The company wants to extend an existing transmission line from Northern Wake County into Eastern Franklin County and south to Zebulon.

PSNC Spokeswoman Angela Townsend said the company is working to keep up with anticipated population growth in the area. She did not comment on the projected increase of customers or pipeline capacity. Townsend said the extension would be up to 29 miles long.

Photo: A drilling site in Rio Blanco and Garfield counties, CO.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service via Flickr

The commission that’s writing North Carolina’s rules on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, or fracking, is getting ready to present its recommendations to the General Assembly. The Mining and Energy Commission has been working since Sept. 2012, and today will debate the last eight rules it is preparing.

A few people like Sharon Garbutt have been following the Mining and Energy Commission. Garbutt has been volunteering to take children on field trips to the Haw River for 20 years. Most of the time, the kids love it.

A map of Triassic basins in NC.
NC DENR

Energy speculators snapped up natural gas drilling leases over Lee County's Triassic shale in a frenzy in 2009. But some energy speculators have begun relinquishing their claims.

In February, Denver-based WhitMar Exploration walked away from a leasing agreement for more than 2,700 acres. That's according to records at the Lee County Register of Deeds.

WhitMar declined to comment to WUNC, but told other media outlets that North Carolina is moving too slowly on hydraulic fracturing.

A picture of segments of pipeline.
Harald Hoyer / Creative Commons

Two major energy companies want to build a second natural gas pipeline into North Carolina.

Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas are soliciting proposals for a pipeline that could carry 900 million cubic feet of gas per day.

Duke is shifting a significant portion of its energy portfolio from coal into natural gas. Piedmont transports gas for both companies via the Transco line from the Texas gulf.

Piedmont spokesman David Trusty said production was interrupted after Hurricane Katrina. He says the companies want to be able to diversify their natural gas sources.

Photo: A rig and gas well operation on the Marcellus Shale in Scott Township, Pennsylvania.
WCN247 via Flickr

The head of the commission appointed to write North Carolina’s rules for hydraulic fracturing for natural gas asked lawmakers Tuesday to halve the area for which drilling companies would be responsible in case of water contamination.

James Womack, chairman of the state’s Energy and Mining Commission, asked that drilling companies be held liable for contamination up to 2,500 feet from excavation sites. Under Senate Law 143, which was signed in 2012, mining companies are liable up to 5,000 ft.

Fracking the Marcellus Shale: a rig and gas well operation.
wcn 247 / Flickr

Groundwater and sediment from a natural gas fracking treatment site in Pennsylvania is contaminated with chemicals and radioactivity.

That's the finding of a new study at Duke University. Researchers examined the quality of shale gas wastewater from hydraulic fracturing in the stream water above and below a disposal site about an hour east of Pittsburgh. 

A hog farm in Lyons, Georgia.
Jeff Vanuga, USDA NRCS

Researchers at Duke University say they have shed more light on the prospects of using hog waste to produce energy. 

A drill rig on a fracking site.
EPA

The natural gas extraction process called hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, has been a source of debate and contention in the state for quite some time now. It involves drilling horizontally through thousands of feet of shale and blasting the shale with water, sand and chemicals to release natural gas. Several states allow the process, some are in the process of figuring out how to regulate it, and some, like New York, have placed a moratorium on the process due to environmental concerns.

Fracking North Carolina: What Do We Do With The Waste?

Apr 23, 2013
Ed Harris on his farm in Lee County.
Richard Ziglar

The price of natural gas has fallen to all time lows and is replacing dirtier fuels like coal.  So why are environmentalists so concerned about drilling for natural gas here in North Carolina?  The process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, used to release the gas from the surrounding shale rock brings with it its own environmental problems including massive amounts of wastewater. This is the second story in our “Fracking North Carolina” series.

Fracking North Carolina: Why Now?

Apr 22, 2013
Butler #3 natural gas well in Lee County.
Ray Covington

North Carolina has never been a player in natural gas production, but that could change thanks to a new extraction process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking involves cracking shale rock to release natural gas so that it can be pumped out of the ground. This story is the first in a special “Fracking North Carolina” series. 

There’s a North Carolina sound that only a few dozen people have ever heard: gas escaping from a well in Lee County.

Standing in front of a well called Butler #3, you can see that it’s a shut-in well, which means it’s been capped with something called a “Christmas tree.” The Christmas tree is only about five feet tall; it’s painted green and it has three shut-off valves coming out of it. It’s set up this way so people can come back and attach pipes to it, but it has been shut off since the 1990s.

Riverbend Steam Station, a coal-fired generating facility in Gaston County, NC.  Riverbend will be retired by 2015 as part of Duke Energy’s strategy to modernize its power plants.
Duke Energy via Flickr, Creative Commons

A new study from Duke University says new air quality standards could spur a shift away from coal power to natural gas as a means of generating electricity.  A natural gas boom has already made it almost as cheap as coal to turn into electricity, but when researchers factored in new emissions standards from the Environmental Protection Agency, they found that most coal electricity will become as expensive as gas, even if gas prices rise.

Lee County is one of a handful of central North Carolina areas known to have natural gas reserves. Ever since state legislators passed a law to allow the horizontal drilling method of extracting natural gas known as fracking, county residents have been wondering when and if they’ll see gas wells sprouting up in their backyards. People in the community are divided over what fracking could mean for them.

Governor Bev Perdue has issued an executive order creating a task force to develop regulation for the controversial natural gas drilling practice known as fracking.

A training center opens in Raleigh this afternoon to highlight the latest uses for propane. North Carolina is the second largest user of the fuel behind California. John Jessup is the executive director of the North Carolina Propane Gas Association. He says propane burns cleaner and is cheaper than gasoline and diesel. He also says the natural gas boom is behind the boost in the propane supply.

A legislative committee that's studying a method of natural gas drilling sometimes called fracking met in Raleigh today. Representatives of oil and gas interest groups as well as environmental non-profits spoke at the meeting. Ray Covington of Lee County is a co-founder of a company that has entered into mineral rights agreements with many landowners in the area.

The boom of shale gas extraction in the US and elsewhere has prompted Duke University to organize a two day conference on the topic. Organizers say the controversial process of gas extraction called fracking will be one of the main focuses of the gathering. Rob Jackson is a professor of environmental sciences at Duke and one of the event's organizers. He says his department is ready to monitor water supplies if fracking is allowed to take place in this state.

There are a lot of legal questions surrounding the potential for shale gas drilling and exploration in North Carolina.  A workshop is set for tomorrow to help bring lawyers up to speed.

The half-day workshop is to give North Carolina attorneys an introduction to natural gas drilling, mineral rights and leasing land to conduct drilling.  Ted Feitshans is an extension associate professor at N-C State and will help conduct the workshop.  He says property owners need help before negotiating with natural gas companies.

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