Fracking chemicals will be kept secret, N.C. Mining and Energy Commission votes

Abby Cavenaugh

January 21, 2014

On Jan. 14, the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission unanimously approved a chemical disclosure rule that would allow companies to keep the chemicals used in the fracking process a secret.

Fracking is the process of using water and a mix of chemicals to fracture shale rock underground and release natural gas. The proposed fracking process is of particular interest to Anson County, since one of the identified natural gas basins in the state is a large swath of land across the center of the county.

In 2012, a group of concerned Anson County residents started a citizen’s action group, called Anson County’s W.A.L.L., or Protecting Water, Air, Land & Lives. The organization’s name changed to Pee Dee W.A.L.L. in 2013. Also in 2012, the N.C. General Assembly passed a bill, titled the “Clean Energy and Economic Security Act,” which established an oil and gas board that governs the process of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas within the state of North Carolina.

The process of fracking is currently under a moratorium in the state, while the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission works to create regulations to safeguard public health and the environment.

The rule approved last Tuesday is “merely a recommendation” to the state legislature, according to a Jan. 14 article in Raleigh’s News & Observer. “A lot of folks have heartburn because there are some states that do take possession of the trade secret,” Commission Chairman James Womack was quoted as saying. “We will have safe and responsible drilling in North Carolina.”

Despite the promises that the process will be safe, environmental and public health groups are still concerned about fracking. Since one natural gas well takes millions of gallons of water to “frack,” the process can affect water supplies. In fact, in other states that currently have fracking wells, residents who live near the wells have been filmed demonstrating that they can light running water in their homes on fire. Fracking can also affect air supply, roads (from the heavy truck traffic) and has been known to cause diseases in humans and animals who live nearby.

The Anson County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a five-year moratorium on the process of fracking within Anson County at its May 2013 meeting. The commissioners’ meeting room was full for the public hearing and vote, with some citizens standing in the hallway to hear the vote.

The moratorium states, “the Anson County Board of Commissioners finds that the extraction of natural gas in Anson County’s rural and agricultural environment poses a significant threat to the health, safety and welfare of residents, neighborhoods and natural features; and … the board finds that significant environmental, community and human health impacts have resulted from commercial natural gas developments in other states.”

Commissioner Jim Sims said that Anson County is in a unique position. “The Triassic Basin, I believe it’s called, is right in the middle of Anson County,” he said. “It’s huge and it’s going to be very difficult when they start fracking to avoid us. We have much more to lose than other counties.”