LIVING GREEN for June 21, 2012

Hey Tarheel State - what the frack?

North Carolina may soon be adding jobs by drilling for natural gas with the passing of legislation to allow something called “fracking” into the state. The adding jobs part sounds great, but the drilling part, not so great. As with any disturbance to the natural environment, drilling into the earth doesn't come without health and environmental risk. Natural gas is a natural resource, which means it comes from the earth. Extracting, processing and using natural resources can cause environmental problems.

If passed, North Carolina will be able to extract natural gas using a method of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing known as “fracking.” Fracking injects pressurized water, a mixture of chemicals, and sand into rock formations to create cracks through the rocks that release the natural gas. Apparently there are more than 600 chemicals used in these operations, including benzene, hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde and methanol. Basically, to get the natural gas, rocks deep within the earth are cracked using injected chemicals. Some state agencies require the gas companies to provide a full disclosure of the chemicals used in the fracking operation, but it's like pulling teeth to get a list. So where do you think these chemicals end up after they made their cracks?  Considering they are mixed with water, they seep just about anywhere within the earth, including groundwater resources.

In North Carolina, the location would include the Triassic Basin, located in the middle of the state, particularly around the Raleigh-Durham areas and the Cape Fear River Basin. According to the Southern Environmental Law Center, the fracking method could potentially impact the water quality of about 2.4 million. The public should know more about this operation, particularly the potential impacts of what goes into the ground and what stays below.

The Department of Natural Resources (DENR) of North Carolina provided a report to the legislature about the safety of fracking and while the report says it can be done safely, there is zero support offered for its conclusion. In fact, their report raises unanswered questions about how fracking will affect communities and the environment.

DENR says that protecting the air and water from the effects of fracking operations will require a higher level of oversight beyond the capability of state regulatory agencies. The concerns include economic and environmental risks, such as water and air pollution especially from the drilling sites. However, since the report does claim it can be done safely, the North Carolina governor is looking to allow fracking into the state. Truth be told, just about anything can be done safely with the proper funding, proper oversight, proper equipment, proper safety methods, etc. It just doesn't seem like the state representatives are looking further into the other potential risks of the fracking issue.

Presently, fracking occurs in at least 14 states throughout the U.S. and it is used extensively in the expanding natural gas industry. For more than three years, Dimock, Pa. residents have been fighting for the safety of their drinking water resources due to the fracking operations of Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been testing the water of the residents and claims it's safe to drink, but results are still a bit murky, considering the water shows levels of methane. Methane contamination may cause flammable tap water and several scientific studies link methane to fracking operations. Debate continues on whether the methane and other contaminates are caused by fracking and residents are concerned for their health, as they should be. At one point the state required Cabot Oil & Gas Corp to provide residents with a supply of bottled water, but then the EPA stepped in and changed all that. The battle continues. To learn more, check out

While fracking has provided opportunities for reserves in natural gas, there are still major concerns over the environmental operations of the drilling. Environmental and health groups claim that fracking operations pollute land and water, while government looks for the value in adding jobs and supporting the economy. There are right reasons and there are wrong reasons to pursue fracking. Either way, it just doesn't make much sense to continue any natural resource extraction operation without answering questions and seeking better regulation, especially when it poses so much threat to the environment we live and breathe in.