DENR turns down grant for water monitoring in gas drilling areas

Posted September 23, 2013

Teams from the U.S. Geological Survey's Water Science Center are testing wells in Lee County to establish baseline data of water quality, which will help environmental regulators determine if natural gas drilling is adversely affecting underground water supplies.

— North Carolina has turned down a pair of federal grants, one of which would have helped monitor water quality in areas where drilling for natural gas is likely to take place, provoking criticism from advocates who say the cash-strapped agency needs the money.

In an email dated Sept. 3, the state informed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it does not need a $222,595 grant for water quality monitoring in areas seen as candidates for hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a method of natural gas drilling that has spurred environmental concerns in other states.

The same email also declines a $359,710 grant to establish a long-term wetlands monitoring network in the coastal plains and Piedmont areas of the state. That money would have helped track how wetlands changed over time. 

"We have people in the division that are able to do these kinds of studies any time they need to be done," said Tom Reeder, director of the state Division of Water Resources. "I can go out and do that and do it a lot cheaper than it would have cost the federal government. ... I have not done a thing that would negatively impact the environment of North Carolina."

But nonprofit environmental advocates say the department could use the money to make up for cuts lawmakers made in state funding to the department. Concerns about the grants were first raised publicly in a piece published by the N.C. Coastal Federation.

"They're down $2 million," said Molly Diggins, state director for the Sierra Club.

Told that Reeder said he could do the same work without the grant, Diggins said it didn't make sense. "A magician might be able to manage to do that," she said.

Water quality is a concern with relation to fracking because critics say methane and other chemicals used in, or released by the process, could seep into local water supplies. The federal grant would have helped establish a baseline for those chemicals in local groundwater so that claims of future contamination could be properly evaluated. 

Reeder said that, as soon as he gets information about specific areas that need to be monitored, his department will be able to do the work.

As for the impact of the wetlands grant, it's useful to know that DENR has been undergoing changes under Gov. Pat McCrory's administration. Those changes are part of the rationale cited by Matt Matthews for turning down the pair of grants in the Sept. 3 email. 

The state's Division of Water Resources, a piece of DENR, is "currently in the process of reorganizing, which includes an evaluation of all existing programs,” Matthews wrote. “The Wetlands Program Development Unit has been identified as a program where the agency will be allocating fewer resources in the foreseeable future. Therefore, we respectfully decline the two grants that were awarded to the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) under the 2013 Request for Proposals."

In fact, the Division of Water Resources is in the process of merging with the Division of Water Quality. According to a fact sheet provided by Reeder, as a result of that merger, "the Wetlands Program Development Unit has been disbanded. All of the work that would have been performed by the employees supported by the grant will be absorbed by remaining staff in DWR or the other appropriate parts of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources."


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  • lizardstail Sep 26, 2013

    The EPA funding was in part salaries for the 6 or so people in the Wetlands PDU in DENR. These people have funded the program for years by successfuly winning grants to conduct water quality research that was transparent, efficient, and no strings attached. Wetlands PDU were not told the grants were being sent back. probably no real economic analysis was done to see if other staff could do these studies cheaper? All spin. The monitoring group is already understaffed and cutting people as we speak. North Carolina does have established programs for chemical and biological monitoring in stream and groundwater to meet the requirements of environmental laws. Until being dissolved Wetlands PDU had established a complementary effort for wetlands across the state and managed it using limited staff and resources in order to make wetland condition and function information available for all to use.

  • Scubagirl Sep 26, 2013

    speechless!!! Since WHEN do we not need the money to help keep NC green and beautiful? This is beyond absurd!

    Guess folks would rather just put their heads in the sand (or somewhere else a bit more difficult, but just as dark) and pretend all is good no matter what is done to the environment.

  • Rebelyell55 Sep 26, 2013

    It appears that NC really doesn't want to know the damage that will be done to this beautiful state.

    September 26, 2013 7:36 a.m........You hit that one on the head, they and the Gas companies don't want ya to know what they're doing to our water supply or air.

  • rushbot Sep 26, 2013

    this is a variation of newt gingrich's national strategy back in the early 90s.. ... ..the republicans in the national legislature were against the clean air and clean water acts...they have all been anti environment but realize the american people favor the clean air act and the clean water act and would react strongly if they abolished said acts..so they tried to be sneaky and failed to appropriate enough money for the epa to conduct compliance monitoring..it would have brought about the same results without any political flack..the republicons in our state government are anti environment..this is how they attack clean air and clean water laws in north carolina...

  • Taffy Sep 26, 2013

    The department does have the people, however, will they be told to do the monitoring. It appears that NC really doesn't want to know the damage that will be done to this beautiful state.

  • Rodin Sep 25, 2013

    Yesterday I had someone from Kansas thank us in North Carolina for taking the "how stupid can our state government be" prize away from them.

  • Inside The Beltline Sep 25, 2013

    We'll be dead on gone by the time our grandchildren start dying from horrific cancers caused by unknown chemicals being shoved into ground. This will make pcb contaminations look like a milk spill.

  • Ears to the Ground Sep 25, 2013

    This money that was refused was tax dollars paid to the federal government being return to NC. Now our federal tax money will just be distributed among the other states.

  • whatelseisnew Sep 25, 2013

    "This short-sighted means of creating mostly temporary jobs for out of state crews is not worth the devastation of our natural resources. "

    What devastation? Perhaps we should ask all the lefties to stop pushing for more people to move here. that is true devastation and damage to quality of life.

  • whatelseisnew Sep 25, 2013

    "The GOP troglodytes running this state have truly adopted an ANTI-Science paradigm. They have outlawed climate change, denied any potential danger of fracking and gutted DENR to the point of fecklessness. WE are the laughing stock of the nation and the world. They have effectively bombed us back to the 18th century,"

    Ah the rants and myths and lies that lefties spew is all too amusing. First of all the Federal Government is Broke and our own State is deeply in debt. I applaud all efforts that reduces spending.