Environment

Fracking wells closed, pipelines opposed: A tough week for natural gas

earthquakes

(Graphic U.S. Geological Survey)

During one of the peaks of the North Carolina legislative fracking wars in 2015, then-state Rep. Mike Hager made a glib, yet telling remark about an amendment he was trying to force through: “Have you ever known me to regret anything?” according to a WRAL report at the time.

Hager might not have regrets about fracking, but Oklahoma likely does. The state has shut down its wells after hundreds of earthquakes shook the state — for more than two years. The earthquakes — the most recent a 5.6 magnitude — once rare for Oklahoma, have been linked to hydraulic horizontal drilling (fracking), in which rock is fractured with high-pressure injections of wastewater to release gas from miles below the earth.

Minor earthquakes in North Carolina occur primarily in the mountains and foothills. (A 2.4 magnitude quake shook Cherokee yesterday, according to Earthquake Track.) But if fracking occurs in earnest, those seismic zones could expand to central North Carolina: Lee and Chatham counties in particular.

But earthquakes can happen as much as 30 miles away from the wellhead, according to research by the Seismological Society of America. That’s about the distance from downtown Raleigh to downtown Durham. The effects can be felt even farther away. The Oklahoma quake shook the ground in six states — regrettable.

Once the gas is released, it has to go somewhere, usually through a pipeline to its destination, such as a power plant or a hospital or university.

The 550-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would run from West Virginia through Virginia and end in eastern North Carolina, was dealt a setback by the U.S. Forest Service. The agency submitted comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission opposing the route, through Virginia, at least, because it would cross sensitive streams in the George Washington Forest.

The forest service’s opposition could delay construction beyond September 2017, the target date set by Dominion Energy, the main utility leading the charge.

Grassroots opposition in North Carolina is also strong. The gas would come from a fracking operation in West Virginia, which not only presents environmental and social justice issues in the immediate area of the wells, but also global problems related to methane releases and climate change. In North Carolina, the pipeline would travel through low-income and minority communities, including Native American tribal lands.

The Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota also traverses sacred Native American sites. Earlier this week, security officers guarding a construction site threatened protesters, including many Native Americans, with dogs.

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