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Friday, May 18, 2012

Frack off

Fifty miles from Raleigh is a new and significant find of natural gas. Extracting it requires use of a technology called "fracking" -- the pressurized injection of large quantities of water, sand, and other substances underground in order to release the gas and force it to the surface. The technology has been around for decades.

Producers of natural gas defend fracking. Noting that Appalachian coal produces the majority of electricity in North Carolina, the gas interests point out that gas is preferable to coal because gas produces less SO2, has no heavy metal residues, consumes relatively little energy to transport through a pipeline, and doesn't require mining that wrecks the environment or jeopardizes human lives. Environmentalists oppose fracking because it pollutes ground water, creates a false sense of security with respect to CO2 emissions, and increases global warming because of inadvertent release of methane (the mother of all greenhouse gases). Each side has valid arguments. How does one sort through it and take a personal position?

To me, there is an easy answer: no fracking. Central NC does not have the water to devote to this purpose. That's an overriding concern, and I don't need to resolve the other issues.

Those of you who live elsewhere wouldn't know that NC has relatively few large rivers. Most of what we call "rivers" in NC would be "creeks" in other states. Construction of two large dams 30 years ago has provided enough surface water -- barely -- to support growth of the Triangle to over 2 million people. Ground water, however, remains quite limited here. A combination of industrial pollution and agricultural pollution has constrained use of what ground water there is. The State of NC has relatively little legislation and case law to govern water rights, and there is no effective administration of water resources across state, county, and municipal jurisdictions.

Therefore I believe it is premature to consider fracking here. And for the sake of North Carolina's future whether fracking happens or not, I hope that state government devises better strategies and guidelines to manage water.