WRAL Investigates

NC landowners, lawmakers divided over fracking

Posted November 11, 2011 4:05 p.m. EST
Updated November 26, 2011 1:00 p.m. EST

— Geologists say six North Carolina counties have the potential for natural gas production, with the best prospects in Lee County. Getting that gas, using a process called fracking, has divided some local landowners and lawmakers.

North Carolina currently has no natural gas production, but legislative leaders appear poised to give the green light for drilling, as public hearings continue across the state. Lawmakers, who already visited Pennsylvania, where the hydraulic fracturing industry has grown rapidly, plan to visit again in the coming week.

A state study on the impact of natural gas drilling is due out next May.

Some landowners are already signing leases to allow the drilling on their land, hoping to cash in. Meanwhile, environmental groups are lining up to fight.

Shale rock in the Deep River Basin runs through several counties. Lee County is considered the hot spot, but the line of shale also hits parts of Chatham, Durham, Granville, Moore and Wake counties.

Dan Butler owns 2,700 acres in Lee County that are under lease for the prospect of gas production.

“I have no idea if I'm going to make out or not. It has not been developed. Just because you have acreage doesn't mean you're going to get anything at all,” he said.

Butler says he is tired of people who only focus on the negative aspects of fracking.

“If people would just keep an open mind and consider the facts,” he said.

Pennsylvania farmers Carol French and Carolyn Knapp have spent the past few days warning North Carolina about water contamination, traffic and the frustration for neighbors not under lease.

“Our safety and well-being are in question,” French said.

Some state lawmakers see it differently.

“You could feel the prosperity, you could feel the wealth, you could feel the economic growth, and you definitely saw the jobs,” said Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, who visited Pennsylvania.

“We can take the best ideas and put them in place in North Carolina,” he added.

Rucho said he believes North Carolina can incorporate regulations learned from others’ trial and error – mandating wastewater recycling, testing well water before and after drilling and making sure companies pay to repair roads torn up by trucks transporting equipment and materials to and from drilling sites.

Still, Moore County landowner Joe McDonald said he is not interested in participating.

“The U.S. Mint can’t print enough money to induce me to let fracking take place on my land,” he said.