Commentary

Another damning (and thereby encouraging) report about fracking

FrackingDon’t ya’ just love it when even the market forces so cherished by the ideologues on the right tell them that their head-in-the-sand environmental denials are all wet? As we reported last week, ExxonMobil is now calling for strong government action to address the climate change crisis even as members of the Flat Earth Society in places like the Art Pope Empire deny that global warming is occurring or, if they concede it is, that it has anything to do with carbon emissions.

Now, comes word of a similar story with respect to the hyper-controversial oil and gas retrieval technique known as fracking. This is from a recent story in the Triangle Business Journal:

“Fracking can significantly decrease home values, especially in areas that use well water, according to a new study from Duke University.

The study, which was done in Pennsylvania, found that home values decreased by an average of more than $30,000 for homes on well water within about a mile of shale drilling.’

…Our results show clearly that housing markets are responding to homeowners’ concerns about groundwater contamination from shale gas development,’ said Christopher Timmins, a Duke economics professor who specializes in environmental economics, and lead author in the study. ‘We may not know for many years whether these concerns are valid or not. However, they are creating a real cost to property owners today.’”

Ya’ got that fracking fans? Not only are the experts who devote their lives to preserving the planet anti-fracking, so is the genius of the free market. Who would have guessed that people don’t want live where their drinking water will be poisoned with toxic chemicals?

The bottom (and hopeful) line: As with so many disastrous environmental practices, polluter-funded denials can only work so long. It’s too bad that it comes to this, but at some point, the facts on (and, in this case, under) the ground become so obvious that even capital starts to say “no way.” Americans are starting to vote with their feet when it comes to fracking. Let’s hope this powerful trend helps keep this destructive phenomenon out of North Carolina permanently.

[This post has been updated.]

Commentary

Local officials deliver letter to Guv demanding right to limit fracking in their communities

This was released today by the good people at Environment North Carolina:

North Carolina officials want local control of fracking

Raleigh, NC– More than 70 mayors, county commissioners, city councilors, and other elected officials from communities across North Carolina issued a letter to Governor Pat McCrory today, calling for the local authority to limit and prohibit dangerous fracking operations. The letter’s release follows another bill passed by the legislature to constrict local authority of the drilling practice.

“As local elected officials, we are deeply concerned about the significant and growing threat hydraulic fracturing poses to our health and environment,” reads the letter, organized by the advocacy group Environment North Carolina, the statewide advocacy group. “We urge you to stand up for the right of all communities to determine whether, where, and how this dirty drilling is conducted within their own borders.”

During the last legislative session, the General Assembly circumvented local government authority by restricting municipalities from placing any regulations on fracking. Last year, the legislature prevented communities from banning fracking from their jurisdictions.

North Carolina isn’t alone in this trend. In May Texas adopted a law barring local regulations of fracking, invalidating measures in Denton and other Texas communities. Oklahoma soon followed suit.

The battle over who regulates fracking comes as the scientific evidence against the drilling technique continues to mount. An analysis of recent peer-reviewed studies determined that 72 percent of them showed “indication of potential, positive association, or actual incidence of water contamination.”

The best way for North Carolina to protect public health from fracking is to follow the lead of states like Maryland and New York and prevent it from beginning altogether, Environment North Carolina said today. Until then, city and county governments should have the chance to protect their citizens from harm, said the group.

“Local communities deserve clean water and clean air, so they deserve local control of fracking,” said Liz Kazal, field director for Environment North Carolina.

Click here to read the entire letter.

Commentary

Editorial: The legislature’s “heavy-handed and underhanded” approach to advance fracking

The Winston-Salem Journal takes the Republican-led legislature to task in Friday’s paper for its 11th hour effort to protect oil and gas companies that have an interest in fracking.

As the WSJ’s editorial board explains:

‘In the final hours of its session last week, the legislature passed a bill that includes a provision that counters moratia passed by local governments on fracking, the Journal’s Bertrand M. Gutierrez reported Tuesday. It describes as “invalidated and unenforceable” local ordinances that place conditions on fracking that go beyond those restrictions already set by state oil-and-gas regulations.no fracking
click here!

This counters a unanimous vote by Stokes County commissioners in September to halt oil-and-gas operations for three years — time the commissioners say they need to review land-use rules aimed at boosting environmental protections. And it comes in the midst of other counties considering similar actions.

Some counties in the state will probably welcome fracking and its significant economic potential within their jurisdictions. But those counties who don’t want it should have every right to reject it, just as they should have every right to decide many other issues primarily affecting them.

And measures promoting fracking shouldn’t be thrust through at the last moment.

Rep. Bryan Holloway, R-King, voted for Senate Bill 119, an omnibus bill tweaking many laws, but indicated he regrets his vote. He had gotten word from House leaders that the bill covered merely technical changes, he told the Journal. “Had I known the provision was in there, I wouldn’t have voted for it.”

Too bad those who pushed the bill didn’t afford him — and the rest of the legislature — and the citizens of the state — the opportunity to vet their brand-new idea.

Some have raised questions about the provision’s legal strength. The provision’s effect will initially be up to the state Oil and Gas Commission, which faces its own legal challenge. Rick Morris, the Stokes County manager, told the Journal “our moratorium will remain in effect as passed.”

But unfortunately, as Gutierrez indicated in a follow-up story Thursday, the provision against such moratoriums may well stand.

Mary Kerley, who helped start the grassroots group No Fracking in Stokes, said the bill’s last-minute passage was a “sneaky” act.’

Read the Journal’s full editorial here. For more on the troubling passage of Senate Bill 119, read Chris Fitzsimon’s column from earlier this week: More evidence of the problem with the way the legislature moves.

Commentary

State budget bill is packed with bad news for the environment

North Carolina environmental advocates are having trouble listing all the bad new laws and money decisions crammed into the 400-plus page budget agreement. As the good people at the League of Conservation Voters reported in an update this afternoon, the budget agreement includes provisions:

  • Allowing the Renewable Energy Investment Tax Credit (REITC) to expire. For every $1 in tax credit allotted to our renewable energy industry, it has generated $1.54 in new state and local revenue. That means more money is coming into our coffers, creating jobs and drawing in a total economic impact of $4.7 billion. Allowing the REITC to expire will likely damage North Carolina’s ability to attract new businesses and investors, especially for our state’s Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties that have received more than $1.9 billion in direct investment thanks to REITC.
  • Earmarking $500,000 for shale gas exploration (aka “fracking”). The irony of allowing a “subsidy” for solar to expire but include half a million dollars in handouts to an industry that already has the funds and the competitive advantage shouldn’t be lost on anyone. Regardless, this is a terrible use of state revenue dollars.
  • Creating loopholes for repeat violators and reducing penalties for those who break state sediment and erosion control laws. While we were pleased to see the Sedimentation Control Commission remain intact, this overseeing body won’t be able to actually enforce any of the rules and protect us and our natural resources from pollution with these gaping holes.
  • Extending funding for the botched SolarBee project to the tune of $1.5 million and delaying the implementation of the Jordan Lake Rules for at least three more years. This simply allows the pollution load to grow and grow, making future clean up efforts even more difficult and costly.

The LCV list doesn’t include the decision to expand controversial terminal groins that will liteally change the shape of the state’s coastline or, undoubtedly, numerous other provisions that will only come to light days after the new budget is law.

In other words, the news from Jones Street is bad and getting worse.