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frackOn 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. Read More

Commentary

The Fayetteville Observer gets it right this morning with this editorial on the future of fracking in North Carolina — which becomes legal in the state today. After noting how the plummeting price of natural gas has slowed the fracking boom and may keep drillers away from North Carolina, the editorial puts it this way:

“But despite the less-than-rosy outlook, lawmakers remain eager to ensure that no obstacles hinder drillers. They hurried last week to pass legislation that forbids state regulators from imposing air-emission rules on fracking that are more stringent than federal standards – which are meant as minimums. So much for legislative vows that we’d have the most stringent fracking regulations in the country. We won’t.

As with so many environmental regulatory issues, government leaders see the primary customer as business and industry, whose interests appear to rank ahead of the health and safety of the people of North Carolina.

At the 2015 Sandhills Clean Energy Summit on Saturday, Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat, blasted the priorities of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources: ‘DENR, unfortunately, has become not the guardian of sustainability, but the second-best, most-genuflecting Department of Commerce in North Carolina.’

If North Carolina has an abundant gas resource, companies will want to mine it and will work with our regulations – which really should be strong. We don’t need to put out an “I’m easy” sign.

In matters like this, protecting the people is government’s top job. But our leaders aren’t even pretending.”

Meanwhile, advocates at Environment NC will hold a press briefing today at the General Assembly along with several legislators from areas likely to be fracked to release a new report that may well foreshadow what’s ahead in North Carolina. The report details the numerous environmental violations by the fracking industry in Pennsylvania – a place in which many rural communities have experienced a sharp decline in quality of life as a result of the industry’s proliferation. Stay tuned.

Commentary

Anti-frackWhen state lawmakers passed a law to allow the introduction of fracking into North Carolina a couple of years ago, proponents promised the public that the state would have the strongest possible environmental protection rules. Today, the state House took one of what will undoubtedly be a repeated series of steps to walk away from that assurance.

Despite strong objections from environmental advocates, lawmakers hurriedly approved a bill that repeals the current law which requires the adoption of state air quality rules by the agency charged with overseeing fracking — the state Mining and Energy Commission. In other words, rather than adopting North Carolina-specific air quality rules for fracking operations (something on which the Commission was already working), the Commission will now be free to take a pass and simply defer to the rudimentary and inadequate federal rules.

Today’s vote occurred in spite of the strong objections of environmental experts like Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County, who explained that the federal rules basically exempt small “wildcat” operations — i.e. the very (and only) kind of gas exploration outfits that North Carolina is likely to attract given its unproven natural gas reserves. While federal rules do a better job of governing larger operations of the kind run by big energy firms, those companies aren’t likely to come to North Carolina anytime soon.

The bottom line: North Carolina took another step toward toward bringing fracking to the state today and it did so in such a way that increases the likelihood that citizens and our natural environment will be exposed to dangerous air pollutants.

 

 

Commentary

There are two excellent reads over on the main Policy Watch site today that you should check out if you haven’t already.

#1 is this excellent and sobering analysis of North Carolina’s new fracking rules and the shortcomings therein by Sarah Kellogg of of the environmental advocacy group Appalachian Voices. As Kellogg writes before outlining the detailing the failures:

The North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission (MEC) issued its final vote on proposed changes to the rules regulating the process of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas (i.e. fracking) last Friday. As you’ve probably heard by now, the panel voted unanimously to approve the rule set.

What you may not know is that between July 14 and Sept. 30, the MEC received 217,000 public comments on more than 100 draft rules regarding safety standards for fracking in the state. More than 2,000 North Carolinians attended the commission’s four public hearings, and the vast majority of speakers opposed fracking and asked for stronger rules. The MEC’s response, written in a hearing officer’s report released two weeks ago, showed a considerable lack of consideration for public comments, a fact that disappointed concerned citizens and advocates across the state. Almost all of the recommendations fell short of what the public overwhelmingly asked for, and the few recommendations that strengthen the rules do so quite minimally.

Must read #2 is this news story by NC Policy Watch Reporter Sarah Ovaska about some equally troubling developments at a public charter school in western North Carolina:

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Commentary

FrackingAs you may have heard, North Carolina’s Mining and Energy Commission held the last in a series of meetings last Friday during which they considered public feedback on the draft fracking rules. Despite having received over 200,000 public comments over the last few months, the Commission only made a few little changes to the rules. They have now come up with a finalized set of rules which will eventually make its way to the General Assembly, where it is likely to be approved. Given that fracking may begin in North Carolina as early as next year, you may want to know a thing or two about these rules.

The majority of the public comments called for stricter safety rules. In response, the Commission made some of the following changes:

  • Unannounced inspections will be permitted – the rules will now allow inspections to take place without prior notice to drillers, in order to encourage the drillers to maintain ongoing compliance.
    (BUT note: the rule is just providing permission, it is neither requiring that inspections take place nor requiring that they take place with regular frequency)
  • Amount of time for permit application to be approved or denied will be increased to 180 days – this allows the public to have more notice and opportunity to comment on the request.
  • So-called “fluid pits” will be required to be larger and continuous monitoring will be required – fracking fluid is held in large open pits, which can be a huge safety hazard. The Commission did not ban open fluid pits but rather just increased their size, in order to prevent spills, and increased the frequency of monitoring for leakage into the ground, from monthly to continuous.

Among the items the rules don’t address: Read More