Collateral Damage: What the N&O missed about gas drilling

The Sunday News and Observer front page story about hydraulic drilling for natural gas (known as fracking) missed some important collateral damage that North Carolinians could face if dangerous fracking were permitted in our state. Combine this with what we already know about the threats to groundwater and one has to wonder why Republican General Assembly Representatives Bob Rucho, Kelly Hastings and Mike Hager are still pushing it.Hydraulic fracturing involves drilling about a mile into shale formations and blasting chemicals, water and sand into the well. The pressure then causes the formation to fracture and form passages for gas to flow into the well.

Besides groundwater contamination, information continues to build about how invasive this drilling would be, not only for communities above the Cumnock Shale Formation in NC, but also communities that would support the industrial operation.

Wastewater disposal – Drillers use more than 4 million gallons of water per well and when the drilling is completed this water is laced with chemicals, solids, salt and metals and must be disposed of or treated for reuse. Ohio has become the dumping ground for Pennsylvania drilling wastewater and may inject the wastewater into deep wells. Read more about it here.

Sand Mining Rush – Sand is a key ingredient in fracking and many gas drillers are in need of tens of thousands of tons each month. There’s a sandstone mining rush in many parts of the country such as Wisconsin, where the sand quality is the type drillers need. Of concern to those living near mines is crystalline silica, a substance known to cause cancer and silicosis, a potentially fatal lung disease.

While the industry claims there is no information to link disease to silica in the ambient air, residents who live near the mines disagree. They site the wind bringing a fine white powder into their homes, finding it on dishes in cabinets, on cars and clothes and they can feel it in their throats.

Minor Earthquakes – Information has now come to light about the potential link between minor earthquakes and hydraulic fracking. A British seismologist recently stated that two minor earthquakes that occurred in the spring of this year near Blackpool, England “correlate closely” with hydraulic fracking in the region. And last week the company, Cuadrilla Resources, admitted it was likely responsible for the seismic events.

An August report by the Oklahoma Geological Survey investigated 43 earthquakes that occurred in January of this year ranging in magnitude from 1.0 to 2.8 in southern Garvin County, Oklahoma, most of which were about 3.5 horizontal km from hydraulic drilling operations. The first quake began about 1.5 hours after the drilling operations had ceased. According to the report because of the “strong correlation in time and space as well as a reasonable fit to a physical model suggest that there is a possibility these earthquakes were induced by hydraulic fracking.”

Finally the N&O did not mention much of what is going on in other states to address concerns with fracking, including those raised by the Securities and Exchange Commission.  Read about it here.

You can hear directly from experts and community residents this Thursday. We hope the legislative staff of elected officials that see fracking as a panacea for our energy and employment problems in  our state will come out and hear from those with first-hand experience and knowledge about gas drilling.



  1. Rob Schofield

    November 7, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    Thanks, Lisa. Very helpful…and sobering.

  2. Alex

    November 7, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    The problem with your article Lisa is that you condemn the process, but offer no alternatives to our energy needs.Coal is essentially being shut down, nuclear has storage problems,most domestic oil drilling has stopped, and we can ill afford to be dependent on Mid-East oil with the instability in that region. Green energy is a mere pittance of our energy needs, and we lack both the investment capital and the time necessary to develop it, and get through the regulation process.We are quickly going down a path where we will simply run out of enough energy, or will be held hostage by other countries. Either alternative will be catastrophic.

  3. Lisa

    November 8, 2011 at 9:30 am


    Over the past few months I have written with many ideas for alternatives to dirty fossil fuel development and nuclear power. NC has huge potential in energy efficiency and renewable energy, especially offshore wind. But precious time is lost while we debate and investigate whether we should be drilling for oil offshore and natural gas on land and continue our fossil fuel dependency. Climate change is upon us and the time to act is NOW.
    here’s a few of those recent entries –




  4. Cat Warren

    November 8, 2011 at 10:21 am

    I also would point out Paul Krugman’s hopeful, excellent opinion piece on this issue in Monday’s NY Times:

    He not only covers fracking and its discontents nicely, but shows the fast-advancing solar technologies we might put in fracking’s place:

    “These days, mention solar power and you’ll probably hear cries of “Solyndra!” Republicans have tried to make the failed solar panel company both a symbol of government waste — although claims of a major scandal are nonsense — and a stick with which to beat renewable energy.

    But Solyndra’s failure was actually caused by technological success: the price of solar panels is dropping fast, and Solyndra couldn’t keep up with the competition. In fact, progress in solar panels has been so dramatic and sustained that, as a blog post at Scientific American put it, “there’s now frequent talk of a ‘Moore’s law’ in solar energy,” with prices adjusted for inflation falling around 7 percent a year.”

  5. Alex

    November 8, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    How can you say that wind power is a viable option when it recently took 9 years to get a project approved in Massachusetts, and there is still a controversy going on ? There are huge transmission problems with wind not even including environmental issues. My point is that we are being foolishly optimistic if we think alternative sources could even reach 20% of our energy needs in the next 15 years.We simply don’t have the investment capital available to subsidize this effort.

  6. Lisa

    November 9, 2011 at 8:35 am

    There are many reports, including many by non profit groups who have contracted with experts, to show what is possible with renewable energy, if we put both our feet into it. here’s one example of what’s possible:

    This report shows how by 2050 renewable energy could provide approximately 88 percent of our overall primary energy demand in the US, and create about 1.1 million jobs in the renewables sector alone by 2030.

    Why is it that Cape Wind took so many years to gain approval but fracking is a booming industry? It is because our nation’s laws and regulations favor fossil fuels period.

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