My house in Sanford, Lee County, North Carolina is underlain by a gas rich coal bearing rock formation that was deposited in a lake bed in a Death Valley like basin at the beginning of the age of the dinosaurs. Gas industry lobbyists have gotten the Republican controlled state legislature to pass legislation that puts fracking for gas in Lee County on a fast track. The NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued a 444 page draft report on fracking late Friday afternoon and scheduled the public meeting for comments on the report for Tuesday evening in Sanford. A second meeting will be held a week later in Chapel Hill. Written comments must be submitted by the end of the month. Obviously, we are being steamrolled by the legislature and the Governor (who has jumped on the shale gas bandwagon after an industry led trip to Pennsylvania).
Koch Brothers and Art Pope funded groups such as Americans for Prosperity bussed in senior citizens wearing orange t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "Shale Yes". Their speakers told us how fracking would bring us energy independence as if natural gas was filling up our gas tanks. Facepalm. Speakers opposed to fast tracking of fracking expressed concerns about water contamination and consumption, protection of property rights, consumer protection and health effects.
The mayor of Pittsboro eloquently spoke about his town commissioners (which include conservatives) voting 5-0 to oppose fracking. He told how fracking jeopardizes the growth of residential and retirement communities in and around Pittsboro. The report didn't examine the number of potential job losses caused by the industrialization and environmental degradation that fracking brings. A woman who owns a family farm in North Carolina spoke of the damage fracking had caused to her sister's community in Pennsylvania. Her compelling story debunked the Chamber of Commerce claims that fracking would be good for Sanford.
I had the impossible job of trying to make technical comments on a hastily compiled 444 draft page report in 2 minutes. The report overlooked a number of recent journal and government reports, so I couldn't just say "Great job. I support this report and its conclusions." A number of speakers had already pointed out that there were many statements in the report admitting a lack of information on critical issues. One speaker had pointed out that the conclusion that fracking could be done safely didn't seem to be written by the same authors as the report because it was inconsistent with the content of the report.
My first point was that the geology of Triassic basins of North Carolina is very different from the simple layer cake geology of most of the other shale gas deposits. The Triassic basins formed when rifting began as Africa began to pull apart from North America. They are riddled with vertical faults. The have vertical volcanic diabase (basaltic rock) dikes that are fractured and can serve as conduits for groundwater. Moreover, the gas bearing formation crops out on the banks of the Deep River. Because the gas deposits range from the near surface to about 3000 feet deep, the potential for contamination of ground and surface water is far higher here than in shales that are 10,000 feet below ground.
My second point was that these rocks are have high levels of radioactive radon gas in them. However, although I made my first point as quickly as I could, in just a few minutes, the chairman of the committee decided to cut me off. He had let speakers talk about all sorts of off topic opinions (e.g. NAFTA) and run over 2 minutes.
As I noted that I was commenting on the technical content of the report, and asked for the time to do it I was surrounded by cops. Huh? Is this what happens to someone who tries to defend his property rights and his community? I said can I have just one more minute? I made my point that there's a uranium ore body on the Triassic basin boundary fault in Virginia and very high radon levels at the "Reading Prong" which is in a Triassic basin in Pennsylvania. Shale gas from NC could be high in radon. We could be gassing ourselves with radioactive radon when we turn on gas stoves and fireplaces. We need to measure uranium, radium and radon levels before we start fracking.
After I stepped out for air many people came up to me and asked for my name and contact info. One of the people I met went to grad school with me at UCLA earth & space sciences. All's well that ends well, but for a minute it was surreal.
5:30 AM PT: I never got to my third point which was a NOAA study on Colorado air quality effects released this February that they did not consider in their report. The study showed 6 to 15 times as much carcinogenic benzene was found in the air than was expected and the source was oil and gas operations. Moreover twice the methane was observed than was thought to be released from oil and gas operations.
8:10 AM PT: Multiple groups are fighting fracking in NC. I have tried to work with them as much as possible, but they are organized out of different counties than where I live. I have also talked with the mayor of Pittsboro, Randy Voller who is a developer who sees fracking as a threat to the high value high tech development planned for Chatham county. When a developer says fracking activity is bad for development and the local economy you can take it to the bank.
Here's a website of one NC environmental organization that's fighting fracking. I met up with their leaders for the first time last night.