Are we risking the loss of North Carolina’s natural resources for future generations?

Feb. 27, 2013 @ 01:23 PM

I am encouraged, hopeful and believe that ordinary citizens must and will have the final word on hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” in Lee County.
As an avowed “environmentalist” with a bias toward good stewardship of the God-given land with which we have been entrusted, including protecting our clean rivers, streams and ground water from toxic waste, and keeping clean the air that we breathe, I believe that we may be on the cusp of risking the loss of much of these precious natural resources for future generations if we do not get more involved in this insidious movement underway right before our eyes … and perhaps soon under our feet!

I have been to half a dozen public meetings on fracking. I understand more clearly than before that “fracking” at best remains a risky business, especially when/if it should be opened up to the smaller “wildcat” operators attracted to relatively smaller markets like this one. And as we all know, living with and around big oil and gas has always been risky business, as in Exxon Valdese, as in BP in the Gulf, as in fracking gone wrong in fracked landscapes all over this country, i.e. almost everywhere it has been undertaken where it has been caught and exposed!

I understand energy independence. I also understand alternative sources of energy as in solar, wind and water rather than fossil fuels that produce methane and carbon — which are responsible in part for global warming. Most importantly, I understand energy conservation that one day will help us use less and get over and beyond our century-long habit of burning fossil fuel.

And yes, there is evidence to suggest that over the next 25 years, natural gas will be one, but only one, factor significantly helping us to break our national addiction to Mideast oil. Is shale gas production a short-term boon to some places but not to all? Probably yes. More specifically, is Lee County and “home” to many of us going to be worth living in and around after the gas folks come in, frack the gas and get out? What will the long-term cost be to those left behind?

The jury is still out on that question. Some economic models suggest that no other energy investments could provide fewer “real” jobs and fewer long-term benefits than fracking in small landscapes like our local Triassic Basin.

Geologically, the local Triassic Basin, where we are located with Lee County at its epicenter, has a shallow water table perilously close to shale rock that would be fracked, as compared to most out-of-state, high-frack areas. Also, with geological, seismic faults naturally occurring in this area, next door to a nuclear power plant, do we need to run the risk of earthquakes from fracking, disrupting life as we have enjoyed it for decades, for the short-term financial gain of some and the sweet political accommodations of others? I do not think so.

Again, bear in mind that fracking is highly suspect to many seismologists as causative in earthquakes in areas where the practice is unleashed. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s legislatively driven fever to frack, and to hurry and frack now, is curiously out of step, it seems to me — with so much popular sentiment against it as we have heard or read about. Is state government out of control on this issue, listening too much to oil and gas lobbyists and large land owners in the Triassic Basin? This is possible.

Did you know that it can take up to 5.3 million gallons of water to frack just one well? With more than 100 well sites that could be fracked in Lee County, you do the math. One can see how our increasingly drought-prone and limited fresh water supply in central North Carolina could be at risk of depletion and/or ruination. Can we run such risks? I do not believe so.

Finally, I am concerned about the uncharacteristic strong-arm, controlling, top-down state government handling of this entire matter, i.e. the Republican-controlled General Assembly and governor. They appear eager to expedite and grease the way through (or around if necessary) the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission chaired by Lee County Commissioner Jim Womack, an avowed proponent of shale gas fracking along with other fracking proponents on this 15 member commission, including Lee County-born Ray Covington, a large landowner in the county’s shale gas frack zone.

Does this make anyone who believes in fair and impartial consideration of the pros and cons of fracking in North Carolina just a wee bit uneasy? I believe that it does.

Fracking has everything to do with shale gas exploration, gas production and the resulting wealth development. New jobs, welcome any time but especially now in today’s continuing depressed economy, may be but a canard where investigation can show that most of the higher-paying jobs are imported for the short term. When the gas runs out and/or the market turns sour, who do you imagine will be left holding the proverbial bag of unmet financial promises and costly repairs? It will be local taxpayers picking up the pieces of a once rustic, bucolic landscape and environment marred by the gas industry.

I am encouraged, hopeful and believe that the ordinary citizens of Lee County, who will inevitably pay the cleanup bill, will size up this situation and get out in front of the trucks, tractors, pipes, pumps and concrete pads otherwise headed this way. Enough ordinary citizens will understand the risks and possible long-term costs to our infrastructure to take a firm public stand on a continuing basis to send the kind of message that “gas and oil” and their minions will respect and understand — which is that we’d just as soon they take their fracking business and go! It can be done!

Editor’s note: Richard Hayes, born on Gulf Street in Sanford, graduated from Sanford Central High in 1956; finished UNC-Chapel Hill with a BSBA in 1960 and worked at Duke University, where he also earned a M.Ed in 1975. After a 40-year career in University Advancement and Public Programs at Duke, the University of California at San Francisco, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and serving a dozen years as senior executive vice president of a consulting firm in Chicago, Hayes retired and was elected to the Lee County Board of Education from 2000-2004 — serving as vice chairman for two years. He was elected to the Lee County Board of Commissioners  from 2008-2012, serving as Chairman from 2008-2010. While a Commissioner, Hayes was appointed a member of board of directors of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners from 2011-2012, was a appointed a member of the Lee County Economic Development Corp. Board of Directors from 2008-2010 and served as an appointed member of the Lee County Environmental Affairs Board from 2010-2012.