State panel says gas wells shouldn't be too close to homes
Posted September 13, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — A state panel recommended Friday that natural gas wells be at least 500 feet from the nearest occupied home, business or school – a distance far greater than allowed in many other states.
The panel includes representatives of North Carolina's energy industry, state and local governments, environmental groups, scientists and landowners. Its recommendation must still be approved by the Mining and Energy Commission, which is drafting regulations for gas drilling in the state.
"Mainly, we were looking at what the other states have done and really just professional judgment – what we think was right," said Paul Sherman, air and energy programs director with the North Carolina Farm Bureau.
Ohio requires gas wells to be at least 150 feet from the closest building. In Virginia, the limit is 200 feet. It's 350 feet in Wyoming, 500 feet in both Pennsylvania and Colorado and 625 feet in West Virginia.
However, other states generally measure from the wellhead to the occupied building. The recommendation for North Carolina is to measure from the outer boundary of the drilling site to the nearest building.
"If we find out later that's not enough, then we need to be ready to come back and revisit that," said David Kelly, a program associate with the Environmental Defense Fund.
Energy companies have identified underground shale deposits across central North Carolina and plan to use a drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," to extract natural gas. The process involves drilling horizontally into the shale and using a high-pressure mix of water, chemicals and sand to break apart the rock and release the trapped gas.
Martha Girolami, who lives in Chatham County, one of the projected hotbeds for fracking, said 500 feet is still too close to her home for a gas well.
"If you look at the literature right now, they're finding very significant impacts on people, especially the elderly, COPD patients, pregnant women, young children," Girolami said.
Environmental groups, which have fought opening North Carolina up to fracking, argue that gas drilling has led to contaminated water and toxic air emissions in other states.
The Mining and Energy Commission has an October 2014 deadline to devise regulations, which would then need to be approved by state lawmakers before any drilling permits could be issued.