Environmental group says 'fracking' will cost NC cities, towns
Posted September 20, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — A report issued Thursday by an environmental group says North Carolina's local governments could end up paying a high price for natural gas drilling.
Lawmakers passed legislation over Gov. Beverly Perdue's veto in July that would allow a controversial method of drilling known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," in the state as soon as late 2014. A newly created Mining and Energy Commission has begun meeting to draw up regulations for the industry.
The state law doesn't allow local governments to ban fracking, but Environment North Carolina, which opposes the practice, says in a new report that local governments could be left with the bill for any damage cause by gas drilling.
Fracking involves drilling horizontally 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.
The Environment North Carolina report states that drilling could contaminate water supplies with toxic wastewater. The heavy trucks and equipment used to haul in the well apparatus and the water and sand used in drilling could ruin roads and bridges, and the presence of nearby gas wells could lower property values, according to the group.
The 49-page report cites anecdotal evidence from other states, such as Pennsylvania and Texas, where shale gas drilling is widespread, but it doesn't forecast any costs for North Carolina.
Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton said he believes fracking accidents will happen, and he says they could cause lasting damage that the drillers won't have to fix.
"There's only so much they would ever have to pay for because, if nothing else, they can go bankrupt," Chilton said. "We don't have that choice as taxpayers in North Carolina. We don't have the choice to simply walk away and shrug and say, 'Oh well, bad decision, I guess.' We're stuck with the consequences of what these people do to our environment."
North Carolina Petroleum Council Executive Director Bill Weatherspoon doesn't deny there have been past problems in other states, but he said the two-year process state lawmakers put in place to create regulations will produce the best safeguards in the country.
"There are always some struggles in every industry. However, every year, we get better. Every year, our technology gets better. I think that this is an opportunity," Weatherspoon said.
Drilling supporters like Weatherspoon say fracking will bring jobs and economic development into the 12 counties in central North Carolina that may have shale gas reserves.
"The reality is that local communities are where you see the big winners. You see an increase in trade and commerce and jobs," he said.
Backers say drillers will have to pay impact fees and bonds to protect communities in case of accidents, but the Environmental North Carolina report called for "dramatically higher bonds that reflect the true cost of fracking" and extensive regulations on drilling.
"There's economic benefits and economic harms that come from fracking, and the question is, is anybody seriously looking at what the balance of the equation is?" Chilton said.
Kelli Kukura, director of government affairs for the North Carolina League of Municipalities, is part of a working group looking at that question. While some cities and towns in the state don't want the gas wells, others are eager for them, she said.
"We do have some confidence in the process that we'll be able to have a voice as we go forward," Kukura said.