Anti-fracking activists make case in Raleigh

Report presented, called 'cautionary tale' for N.C
Oct. 04, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

A new report, part scientific study and part policy proposal, claims that hydraulic fracturing has far too many health risks to be allowed to go on anywhere in the United States, including in North Carolina.

At the N.C. Legislative Building in Raleigh, local activists joined forces with Sen. Mike Woodard (D-Durham) and representatives of the group that released the study, Environment North Carolina, on Thursday. They called on state leaders to reverse course and start moving toward keeping North Carolina's moratorium on fracking.

“This report serves as a cautionary tale for North Carolina," Liz Kazal, a field associate for Environment North Carolina, said. "... The message should be clear: In state after state, fracking has polluted our air, water and land."

Specifically mentioning Senate Bill 76 — which originally would have fast-tracked drilling but was eventually tempered down to require rules to be in place before the moratorium could be lifted — Kazal and Woodard said the legislature needs to rethink its priorities.

Local Rep. Mike Stone, who wasn't at the meeting but was reached later, said he disagreed. He and Moore County Rep. Jamie Boles were the ones who rewrote the fast-tracking bill to make it more cautious with a start date not before 2015, and Stone said he stands by it.

"It's important for North Carolina, but also the whole United States, as we become more energy independent," Stone said about fracking. "We are going to eventually lead the world in terms of natural gas development."

But one speaker at Thursday's meeting said there's another resource that should be held in higher regard than natural gas or anything else.

"We cannot afford to have our water resources compromised," said Moya Hallstein, a Chatham County farmer who is also studying sustainable agriculture at Central Carolina Community College. "Fracking has been shown over and over to contaminate ground water. ... If we risk our water, we all better be prepared to be hungry."

The study unveiled Thursday found that in eight of the 17 states that allow fracking, gas companies have used more than 200 billion gallons of water — water which can't be put back into use because it gets mixed with chemicals and becomes impossible to clean — and which the study said would be enough to flood all of Raleigh in nine feet of the hazardous waste.

The smallest of those states in terms of water usage, New Mexico, used 1.3 billion gallons in fracking operations since 2005. Kazal said that same amount of water could serve all of North Carolina's agriculture needs for the next 18 years. Keely Wood, a Lee County horse farm owner, said she's worried what that kind of demand could mean locally.

"Where's this water going to be claimed from?" Wood asked. "The Haw River? Jordan Lake? ... You cannot run a farm or a productive life without water."

She also suggested that people get their water tested before fracking begins. It might be expensive, she said, but worth it in case of lawsuits if fracking does end up polluting the local watershed. Recently, the state Department of Energy and Natural Resources received criticism when it turned down federal aid to test water in areas where fracking might occur.

Stone said he was among those critics. He's presiding over a legislative committee on energy during the break between sessions, and he said he used that position to press officials for answers last week.

"When I went to Pennsylvania (to study fracking areas there), one of the biggest problems they had was there had been no baseline testing, so I do have some concerns," Stone said.

He added that he spoke with DENR officials and members of the Mining and Energy Commission, which is establishing rules and regulations for fracking, but he still wants a formal explanation of their reasoning and future plans.

"We should know what DENR will test compared to the EPA, and what the timeline is, and when they'll start," Stone said. "And if (DENR) can do a better job, fine. I'll say go for it. But there needs to be transparency."

On a related water note, Woodard said fracking will certainly have some economic benefits — a key point that supporters often raise — but he thinks that immediate benefits shouldn't be bought at the cost of long-term ruin.

"You're not going to grow any manufacturing, any sort of economic development, if your water is contaminated," he said.

Jim Womack, chairman of the Mining and Energy Commission and a Lee County Commissioner, said he wasn't aware of this study and the purported links it found between fracking and illness, water contamination and more. However, he said, researchers from DENR have done similar studies for his commission and haven't found anything to make him question his belief that fracking will be beneficial.

"I look forward to seeing it, and maybe I can learn something from it," Womack said of the report released Thursday. "But based on the surveys and the general research we've done, we see no reason not to move forward in 2015."

The full 46-page report can be found at www.environmentnorthcarolina.org/reports/nce/fracking-numbers.