On the day it has become legal under state law to apply for a fracking permit in North Carolina, advocates at Environment North Carolina joined with a group of state lawmakers at the Legislative Building this afternoon to make clear that the controversial drilling procedure will not commence in the Tar Heel state without a fight.
Armed with a damning new report on the myriad problems to which fracking has given rise in Pennsylvania (“Fracking Failures: Oil and Gas Industry Environmental Violations in Pennsylvania and What They Mean for the U.S.”) and forecasting litigation if any permits are approved by the state Mining and Energy Commission, the advocates and legislators addressed a gaggle of cameras and reporters at a press conference and made clear that the battle over fracking in North Carolina is far from over.
According to Environment North Carolina spokesperson Liz Kazal, “North Carolinians are no longer guaranteed safety” from an industry in which “every company is a bad actor.” Pointing to the disastrous results in Pennsylvania — where, she said, there have been at least 243 examples of drinking water contamination as the result of fracking and where the top 20 polluters have racked up more than one significant regulatory violation per day for years — Kazal argued that the only responsible course for North Carolina lawmakers is to reinstate the moratorium on fracking until, at a minimum, much tougher rules can be enacted.
In echoing Kazal’s call for a reinstatement of a moratorium, Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County observed that North Carolina is, without any kind of history in the oil and gas drilling field, essentially making up the rules in this area “from whole cloth” and breaking previous promises made by fracking advocates in the General Assembly that the state would have the strongest environmental protection rules in the country. She added that lawsuits challenging any approved permits under other state environmental protection laws are a virtual certainty should the Mining and Energy Commission approve any permits. She went on to note that given the current economics of the industry, the only fracking businesses likely to even try the controversial process here would be so-called “wildcatters” — i.e. small, independent outfits with less experience than major energy companies and the very kind of actors most likely to have accidents and cause pollution.
Kazal and Harrison were joined at the podium by several lawmakers from the region of the state most likely to be targeted for fracking — including Rep. Robert Reives of Lee and Chatham Counties and Senator Mike Woodard of Caswell, Durham and Person Counties. Both Reives and Woodard conveyed grave concern on the part of their constituents about the prospects for water, air and noise pollution in their neighborhoods as well as the threat to basic land ownership rules posed by “force pooling” — the controversial practice under which landowners can be forced to allow fracking under their land.
Several of the speakers at today’s event also disputed the notion advanced by fracking proponents that the industry might somehow spur significant job growth in the state. Pointing to a state Department of Commerce report from a few years back which concluded that the number of potential jobs is in the 300-400 range, Rep. Joe Sam Queen of western North Carolina highlighted the terrible cost of polluting groundwater in a region — essentially forever — in exchange for a handful of “flash-in-the pan” jobs.
The bottom line from today’s event: Anyone in the fracking industry who thought that North Carolina will be rolling out the red carpet as a result of today’s law change may want to think again. In addition to overcoming some highly questionable economics, potential frackers will also have to overcome a whole lot of smart and committed advocates and public officials if they really want to frack here. With any luck, this fact may be enough to convince the industry to look elsewhere. Let’s hope so.