Fracking could pollute coastal water sources

Sophomore Jasmine Ruddy is from Morehead City, one of many coastal communities that could be directly affected by a bill to fast-track hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in North Carolina.

“That makes me really nervous for the health of my family who is still living there and drinks the tap water every day,” said Ruddy, an environmental health sciences major and a member of UNC’s environmental affairs committee of student government.

Fracking retrieves natural gas by pumping a mixture of water and chemicals into shale rock formations.

FRACKING BILL
  • N.C. Senate Bill 76 would enable companies to begin drilling for natural gas sooner than current law allows.
  • The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Mining and Energy Commission could issue permits for oil and gas exploration starting in March 2015.
  • Both the department and commission would work to develop a comprehensive permit for well construction, water management and waste disposal by October 2013.

Proponents of the process say it taps into an otherwise inaccessible energy source that could reduce oil dependency.

But critics of the bill claim fracking uses too much water and could pollute drinking sources, especially in coastal areas suitable for waste deposits.

The bill, which passed the N.C. Senate and is currently in a House committee, would lift a ban on depositing industrial waste in deep wells and permit fracking starting in March 2015.

Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, said the state should establish more regulations before fracking begins.

“That’s not to say that I am totally opposed to fracking,” he said. “It’s just to say we should take a go-slow approach.”

McGrady said there are still unanswered questions about how to safely dispose of the chemical waste.

An April 2012 report by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources found that fracking can be done safely with more research and the proper regulations.

Richard Whisnant, UNC School of Government professor and former environmental lawyer, said many legislators and residents do not understand the complications of regulating a new industry.

“We can’t cut and paste regulations from other states,” he said. “The state ought to take whatever measures it can take to put a good regulatory structure in place.”

He said the process should not be rushed.

“I don’t see that the resource itself is going anywhere,” he said.

But Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, a member of the House environment committee, said fracking should not be attempted in the state.

“I don’t have a lot of confidence that we’re going to be able to establish a safe structure for fracking,” she said.

She said if the deep well ban is lifted, the chemical waste from fracking could imperil drinking sources.

“It can be a real problem for public health issues,” she said. “We ended that practice 40 years ago because we knew once you put poison in the aquifers you’re never getting that back.”

Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, said fracking would create only short-term positions for N.C. residents.

Most long-term jobs would remain with out-of-state companies, she said.

She said depositing waste on the coast could slow tourism.

“There’s a danger of people thinking they’re coming to a place that’s polluted,” she said.

Contact the desk editor at state@dailytarheel.com.

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