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Editorial: So much unknown as drilling permitting begins

In less than two weeks, the permitting process for hydraulic fracturing to explore for fossil fuels can begin in North Carolina. What’s going to happen depends a lot on whom you ask.

“I believe there will be holes drilled in the ground before the end of the year,” says James Womack, a member of the state Mining and Energy Commission and a former Lee County commissioner.

Others are much more skeptical that much fracking will be done, even in the most promising areas, mostly along a narrow band west of Sanford. “I don’t think it makes economic sense to do any sort of fracking in North Carolina right now,” said Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Henderson County Republican.

Startup costs are steep. Declining prices have brought some natural gas and oil ventures to a halt. Why search for more?

That’s one reason for concern. The well-funded and experienced fracking teams may not be coming. But wildcatters with just enough financing to get permits may try. They are likely to cut corners to save costs. When the money runs out, they may leave behind a mess.

In related news, North Carolina Senate outlaws disclosure of fracking fluid secrets.

Unrestricted fracking threatens natural resources. Some ventures elsewhere have fouled the soil and water, while wrecking the landscape. Lawmakers spent many months drafting and debating rules, most of which take effect later this month.

But even those safeguards can be undone too easily. A legislator snuck a last-second fracking amendment into an unrelated bill this week. It appeared harmless. But analysis showed it threatened to nix air-quality protections related to fracking. Fortunately, lawmakers of both parties wised up and defeated the proposal on its second reading.

The situation is ripe for that kind of tinkering because North Carolina knows so little about what to expect.

The state isn’t even prepared to make some existing rules work. For instance, frackers must have a waste-management plan for the chemical brew they’ll use to split up rocks as they search for natural gas. But no treatment plants in the state are capable of handling fracking wastewater. There’s time to address that, since any permits would take a while to approve, with additional time before fracking began. But the state should be better prepared.

At best, we can only guess what’s going to happen. It’s new territory. State agencies and lawmakers must monitor the spread of fracking. Maybe the laws will be sufficient. But if they’re not, then timely and well-thought-out additions may be needed.

 

This article was from The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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