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

The Sunday News and Observer front page story [1]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 [2]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 [3], 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 [4].

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 [5], 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 [6] 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 [7], admitted it was likely responsible for the seismic events.

An August report by the Oklahoma Geological Survey [8] 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 [9].

You can hear directly from experts and community residents this Thursday [10]. 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.