Safety of fracking questioned

A move to fast-track the controversial drilling method known as “fracking” in the state to reap potential economic benefits has raised concerns among groups who question the safety of the practice.

An N.C. Senate bill filed last week would enable the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources to issue fracking permits to companies starting in March 2015.

The bill would alter current law, which requires regulations to be established by the end of 2015 and a vote by the N.C. General Assembly before permits can be issued.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves the injection of a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into shale rock formations underground to release trapped natural gas.

If the bill is signed into law, thousands of much needed, permanent jobs could be created, said Sen. Buck Newton, R-Johnston, co-sponsor of the bill.

But Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, director of communications for the N.C. Sierra Club, said fracking poses environmental concerns and will not bring long-term jobs to the state.

He added that recent studies have shown that fracking might not generate as many jobs as advertised and has caused environmental problems in states such as Colorado.

Chicurel-Bayard said the group is also concerned that the Mining and Energy Commission would be rushed to create fracking regulations.

“Allowing permits to be issued without knowing whether the (commission) can do their job on time is pretty dangerous,” he said.

He added that the state would do better by investing in wind energy, which Gov. Pat McCrory recently expressed support for developing.

“If you’re looking for a sustainable source, clean energy should be your base. Not dirty energy,” Chicurel-Bayard said.

But Michael Whatley, executive vice president of the Consumer Energy Alliance, which advocates for low energy prices and increased domestic production, said fracking could lead to long-term economic growth.

He said faulty casings around the gas well can cause water contamination, but that fracking is safe with the proper regulations in place.

Pennsylvania, which has the most advanced fracking systems in the country, he said, has experienced few fracking accidents.

Newton said he is confident the bill will pass.

“Most folks are beginning to realize that with good regulations, the risks are minimal and the jobs are badly needed,” he said.

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