The N.C. Mining and Energy Commission recently agreed to hold a public hearing on proposed fracking regulations in Western North Carolina, in addition to three previously scheduled hearings in the Piedmont.
The meeting is tentatively scheduled from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 12, at the Bardo Fine & Performing Arts Center at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee.
The N.C. Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources, on behalf of the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission, is seeking public comments from July 15 through Sept. 15 on a set of proposed rules to regulate oil and gas exploration and development.
Additional public hearings are scheduled for Aug. 20 in Raleigh, Aug. 22 in Sanford and Aug. 25 in Reidsville.
An organization called Clean Water for North Carolina was among those that lobbied for a hearing to be held in the western part of the state.
“Whether or not fracking comes to the mountains, Western North Carolina will feel indirect statewide impacts from fracking in North Carolina, from infrastructure and pipeline development, cost of road repairs, wastewater disposal and more,” the organization said.
Session Law 2012-143 charged the commission with developing regulations for managing oil and gas exploration and development. The General Assembly passed a law this year setting Jan. 1, 2015, as the deadline for adopting the regulations so that permits can be issued to developers.
Hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” involves drilling a well vertically and then horizontally into the shale formation. The natural gas production company perforates the well and then pumps fracturing fluid (composed of 98 to 99.5 percent sand and water, plus chemical additives) into the well under pressure to fracture the shale.
The proposed regulations include sections on definitions, administrative rules, exploration and geophysical surveys, drilling units and well spacing, permitting, financial assurance, well site construction, well construction and completion, chemical disclosure, environmental sampling (baseline and subsequent sampling), water acquisition and use, waste management, reclamation and operation and production.
Known locations of natural gas resources in the state include the Deep River Basin, which extends from Granville County south to Union County, the Dan River-Danville Basin in Stokes and Rockingham counties and the Davie Basin, which straddles Yadkin and Davie counties.
But the General Assembly has also authorized a study of potential presence of shale gas in the Western North Carolina counties of Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain.
According to a fact sheet prepared by the organization Clean Water for North Carolina, “We don’t know the likelihood of natural gas or oil in the mountains of North Carolina. Though some geologists have expressed skepticism that there is any significant amount, state geologist Ken Taylor thinks it is a possibility.”
Clean Water for North Carolina noted that “much of the land that could possibly be fracked in Western North Carolina is public land — state and national forests.”
The U.S. Forest Service acknowledged the potential for oil and gas exploration in the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests in a July 11 statement.
“In 2008, the Bureau of Land Management completed a 10-year forecast and did not predict any oil or gas wells, or surface disturbance,” USFS said. However, a document called the “Preliminary Need to Change the Existing Land Management Plan” for the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests, dated March 4, 2014, indicated, “There is a need to update plan direction to address potential commercial oil, gas and hard rock mineral exploration and uses.”
The March 12 notice of intent to revise the forest plans said, “No decision regarding oil and gas leasing availability will be made in the revised Forest Plan, though standards will be brought forward or developed that would serve as mitigations should an availability decision be necessary in the future.”
Citizens are not required to attend public hearings to provide input on the proposed North Carolina fracking regulations. Written comments may be submitted through Sept. 15 by mail to the Mining & Energy Commission, ATTN: Oil and Gas Program, 1612 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699; by email to firstname.lastname@example.org; or online at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mining-and-energy-commission/public-comment-meetings.
Citizens are asked to reference specific rule sections in the subject line.