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Too much at stake

by Jefferson Weaver on 4th-June-2014

On the surface, fracking—the use of hydraulic pressure and machinery to access natural gas deposits underground—seems like a good idea. Boosting the economy while creating another employment-rich industry with little impact on private property—and selling the product on a fuel-hungry world market—sounds like a good idea.

North Carolina is apparently prime territory for the process, and Gov. Pat McRory has actively pursued fracking since the first time he took a statewide campaign trail. Politically, it’s been a predictably divisive issue, with Democrats largely against even exploratory fracking, and Republicans for the most part wanting to dive right in on an emerging energy source.

Watching the documentaries produced by both pro- and anti-fracking groups can almost be entertaining; both have admitted to taking liberties with the truth, whether it’s low-balling the environmental risk, or adding combustible fluids to tap water to make it catch fire (the same process, by the way, can be achieved in any high school chemistry lab.)

But still, but still…

The process itself is not proven as safe as current methods of gas and oil recovery. The effects on ground and groundwater may not be as catastrophic as the more rabid environmental groups claim, but they are still a significant concern.

Like a shiny new car with a slightly underinflated tire, a scratch on the bumper and the barest hint of leaking antifreeze under the radiator, we are concerned. The issues may not be a real problem, but they could be far worse than anyone imagines. For that reason, North Carolina needs to gently disembark the fracking bandwagon, at least until there is more reliable research on the effects on aquifers, groundwater, the environment and farmland. If the groups pushing fracking aren’t willing to provide better info, with presentations that are longer on facts and shorter on glitz and promises, the state needs to back away from even the most basic exploratory fracking farms. The General Assembly certainly doesn’t need to be rushing into legislation to allow, much less incentivize, the process.

Much of eastern North Carolina receives its water from aquifers, vast underground rivers that collect groundwater. The water is filtered through layers of stone, sand and earth, creating some of the cleanest, most reliable groundwater supplies in the country. Fracking has been proven successful in the coal shale fields and elsewhere, where above-ground water supplies are the norm. Research is still lacking on the effect fracking will have on the aquifer system.

Everyone who’s ever lost a well knows the problems with reaching a new, reliable supply of water. Disrupting the bedrock below the aquifer could allow the subsurface areas (where most wells tap into their supply) to collapse. Even if the bedrock and surrounding earth were not seriously disturbed by the fracking process, there’s still a major chance that the chemical process used by engineers could release everything from heavy metals to carcinogens into the water supplies for millions of people. That the process itself is still considered a trade secret is not exactly reassuring, either.

If a fledgling natural gas industry lies a few hundred feet below North Carolina, it might be a good thing. However, if that gas cannot be safely, responsibly accessed, the state needs to block the idea with no regard to political loyalty, economic impact, or the amount of hot air produced by either side of the issue.

 

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