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Water quality near Sanford tested before 'fracking' starts

Posted May 2, 2012

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— Water-quality experts are testing people's wells in Lee County to create a baseline that will help state regulators measure the environmental impact of natural gas drilling.

Teams from the U.S. Geological Survey's Water Science Center are fanning out across the county to assess the best places to test the groundwater. About 150 area homeowners have asked the USGS to test their wells, but officials said locations will be chosen based on scientific criteria.

"We haven't sampled in this area since the 1960s, 1970s," Melinda Chapman, a USGS groundwater specialist, said Wednesday.

State lawmakers are expected to consider legislation when they reconvene later this month that would allow gas drilling as quickly as 2014.

Environmental groups have expressed concern about the controversial drilling method of hydraulic fracturing, saying that they fear it could contaminate water sources in central North Carolina.

The process, also known as "fracking," involves horizontal drilling into underground deposits of shale and then pumping a high-pressure mix of water and chemicals into a well to break apart the rock and release natural gas.

A WRAL News crew visited Pennsylvania last fall to examine fracking, and residents said the gas boom provides an economic boost but also has brought environmental worries like high methane levels in drinking water.

Rob Jackson, an environmental sciences professor at Duke University, has studied fracking in Pennsylvania.

"Much of the controversy has been over, you know, whether problems in people's water occurred before the drilling started," Jackson said. "That's a question that, for many houses, they just can't answer because they hadn't had their wells tested."

The Lee County study is among the first of its kind, officials said.

Water tests before fracking Testing water could protect homeowners, drillers

"We can get an assessment of the before-water-condition," said Holly Weyers, director of the USGS Water Science Center, "so that, in the event they come and hydro-frack, we can then come back and take samples and assess if there is any impact afterwards."

Jim Shearin said the study is important for area homeowners like him.

"The most important thing is you have absolute proof of the difference (fracking) does make," said Shearin, who said he has refused several offers to sell the rights to drill for gas on his property.

Jackson said the study could also protect drilling companies against lawsuits from people whose water quality was bad to begin with.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has said that fracking can be done safely in North Carolina if regulations are put in place first.

A DENR study, which was finalized Monday, recommends a long list of regulations, including collecting baseline data for water and air quality. Other rules would include setback requirements around drill sites, standards for waste disposal and full disclosure of the chemicals used in the fracking process.

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  • cheriep1 May 4, 2012

    Water contamination is a big one, but this goes on all the time where I come from, quoted from news in my hometown: “A driver for (company name omitted) admitted that he intentionally dumped a load of oil-based waste drilling mud onto the ground,” North-central Waste Management Program Managersaid. “This violated the Pennsylvania Solid Waste Management Act and the department’s penalty reflects this blatant disregard for the environment.”
    What once were beautiful mountains are now dotted with fracking equipment. Spills/leaks running downhill. Town roads torn up by the horendous traffic. Houses are blowing up, drinking water is contaminated, and you can hold a match to the spigot and watch the flames. Just sad.

  • bigsky59 May 3, 2012

    We pretend voting for politicians is so important.

    The politicians don't always vote the way the people they are supposed to be representing want them to vote, anyway.

    Why don't we get to vote on really important issues ourselves? This is one issue I would like to have a vote!

  • bigsky59 May 3, 2012

    Even though I have heard of groundwater flow rates of 2 inches per day I copied this off the web: "Average ground water flow rate of 15 m per day is common. Highly permeable materials like gravels can have flow velocities of 125 m per day." --- Either way, once the ground water is contaminated, this contamination could very well be IMPOSSIBLE to remediate.

    The old standby "the solution to pollution is dilution" has been proven to be very wrong. Being exposed to minute quantities of toxins from the fracking mixture over a period of years will lead to many forms of cancer. Children's fast growing bodies are the most vulnerable to these toxic insults. These cancers may not show up for 20+ years after exposure.

    Cancer is a horrible way to go.

    Totally unacceptable short-sightedness. Do we really need this energy source NOW? Lets wait until some better way can be found to do the same thing. Why not?

  • Rebelyell55 May 3, 2012

    So sad that the leaders in Lee Co. and NC, are so narrow minded and greedy to be bought off by the Gas companies. There is no need to proceed with this in NC. It can wait for another 10 years or so, where it maybe to the advantage of our citizens. Right now, this is no advantage to do this. Leave in the ground for the future generations, who'll certainly need it more than we do right now. We owe it to future generation not to do any harm to the enviroment than what going on now. It would be the same as robbing your child and grandchildrens future bank account.

  • Rebelyell55 May 3, 2012

    Where is DNR posting this information for the public to consider?

    paul2345
    May 3, 2012 8:45 a.m.
    ........You posting has some very good questions, sadly these and other concerns are falling on deaf ears. The polictican in our state and in Lee Co. has already been bought and paid for. No matter that the majority of the citizens in NC does not want this in our state, they're going ahead with it. Even voting them out will be too late unless the new people will stop this. It is really sad that people don't remember how Corp. butchered our lands years ago, and still doing so in the mountains. Some area are recovering, but the damage done by this practice will not recover for many, many decades.

  • tran May 3, 2012

    Wait until the tap water becomes flammable.

  • davidgnews May 3, 2012

    I can't wait until the fracking people start clashing with people like T.Boone Pickens buying up water rights. It's going to be a good one.

  • knucklehead May 3, 2012

    What if their water is bad now? who are they going to sue? Would the mobile estate manufacturing industry be in play? Or would changing the oil in the driveway all those years and letting it run in to the creek possibly do them in?

  • paul2345 May 3, 2012

    So riddle me this: we get the baseline, which is great science. Frackers come in and get their gas. The hypothetical comes to pass and the water table is contaminated from the fracking compounds and/or gas leachate -- and the well water is made undrinkable by the contamination plume that may exist just for a few acres -- or many, many square miles. What then? That plume isn't going to dissipate magically over a few months or years, is it? How many decades, if that short, does it take for a contamination plume in ground water to move downstream (polluting those people's wells)? At what concentrations is that plume considered 'safe to drink'? What, exactly, are the compounds used in the fracking sauce? Where is DNR posting this information for the public to consider?