Category Archives: Energy

Issues tied to energy resources

A call to reflection: “A Manifesto for Understanding in a Time of Great Thirst, Emma Fisher, Charleston”

An incredibly heart-wrenching account of a West Virginian speaking about the love of a place and the defeatism that seeps in when society celebrates riches and rewards over its human and natural capital. Such profound visions come people when they cannot drink their water.

A Manifesto for Understanding in a Time of Great Thirst, Emma Fisher, Charleston.

The most powerful passage I want to quote here, but I hope everyone reads the whole piece.

It makes us angry, so angry. But we don’t direct our anger in the right places. Because the right places are so mighty and everlasting that we feel defeated before we even start. And those right places capitalize on their ability to shape our minds with slippery, imperious moves that are only slightly more veiled than the company store. Embracing modern manipulation techniques in advertising and branding and marketing to convince us they’re an ally. And we believe it. Because there is too much at stake to not believe it. And because we’ve been taught to believe it, and we’ve been taught that not believing it makes us a traitor.

And so we take the frustration that comes, and we turn on one another, and we turn on ourselves. And we keep ourselves down, in small behaviors every day. Small behaviors that shape our lifetimes. With this knowledge of powerlessness that is so insidious, so deeply, collectively understood as “the way it is,” it becomes difficult to detect, and it becomes us.

Amazing how poignant her statements ring for the debate here in North Carolina. Those in favor of fracking who repeat industry’s talking points without taking into consideration data to the contrary need to hear this voice from West Virgnia. Please, pro-industry folks, stop insulting the public with overblown claims about the stellar record of hydraulic fracturing. I, for one, acknowledge that this is an incredible technology to access and extract good resources, but there are a lot of risks involved, and the sustainability of natural resources must be accounted for in a cost-benefit analysis. But what should be an open discussion between policy-makers and the public quickly devolves to name-calling in a public forum: people turning on each other.

North Carolinia, we must do better.

-BT

 

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Fracking, environmental justice in central PA, and its implications in NC

Lengthy story here about environmental justice in central Pennsylvania.

Barry Yeoman report on environmental justice in heavily-fracked central Pennsylvan

What I find revealing about this investigative piece from central Pennsylvania is something that Yeoman observes at the opening of the second page:

Few Places in the United States are tougher ground for building an environmental-justice movement than the Appalachian counties of central Pennsylvania—politically conservative, temperamentally reticent, and historically reliant on resource extraction. “We’re family-oriented. We’re white. We don’t bother people. We take care of our own,” [a local minister] told me.

The dispersed nature of fracking with the remote, isolated, small-scale industrial sites come with the promise of quick riches in mineral leases, changing the use of that land. The pride of taking care of our own leads to self-protective decisions, swayed by the gas man’s push to boost his bottom line, ensure painless and profitable access for the industry. The very residents sitting upon unproductive soils, a lost and contractually confining poultry industry offering loosing returns, and what seems like a budding American revival combine to turn a blind eye – a willful ignorance – to banking on the short-sighted hope of pulling the last drop of liquid from an already squeezed source while not investing in very real outputs to stretch our personal incomes and create real jobs and industry.

See my previous post about finding energy efficiency programs throughout the southeast, but these underlie the whole energy debate. Use less energy, diminish the demand for the supply, and utilities slow their push to extract every last drop of oil and gas. We can all play a role in reducing our consumption, while at the same time appreciating the developed economy in which we live that affords us the option.

On the bigger picture of jobs and industry, there is vast more opportunity to develop manufacturing facilities for wind and solar energy production here in North Carolina. In fact, North Carolina recently opened a manufacturing facility in Cleveland County for Schletter, a German company, to produce state-of-the-art photovoltaic panels and associate machinations for more efficient capture of solar energy. This facility has a workforce of around 300, I believe. Why chicken farmers are not leasing the rooftops of their chicken houses for solar panels to sell energy to utilities is beyond question. Dare I say that single-use commercial/agricultural facilities should be a thing of the past? Lee County is situated very well for manufacturing, especially in industry building for tomorrow’s economy. Its proximity to the Research Triangle and the growing markets of the state (and the whole southeast) is advantageous. For central North Carolina to get into the energy production industry solely through extracting natural gas is really selling its workforce and residents short. The long-term effect of fracking won’t burden the drillers or the utilities that purchase the gas, but it will linger in the community, both in the personal realm and in the civic and social infrastructures. Extraction of gas has not begun, but division is rampant: elected leaders have slandered their own constituents in the public square! This is a time for planning, and all stakeholders need to be at the table and respected in the process.

BT

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Find resources to make your home (more) energy efficient!

technology working backwards

See this resource below put together by Appalachian Voices in which you can search for utility-sponsored rebate programs for homes (and businesses) to improve energy efficiency:

Map to identify resources to improve energy efficiency

I conducted a quick search for programs in a rural community in Halifax County (NC) and found a nice range of options for homeowners even where the utility does not have a rebate program. In this example, there are three utilities in the area, two of which do not provide a program for homeowners. In both of those cases, however, there is a list of resources on the sidebar which homeowners may explore, such as availability of discounted LED or CFL lightbulbs and appliance recycling programs.The utility that does have programs for homeowners are listed with a brief description, and active links to the utility’s program website.

Be sure to check Appalachian Voices’ main Energy Savings

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Exploratory wells coming to… western NC?

A nice summary courtesy of Carolina Public Press of the report DENR Assistant Secretary Mitch Gillespie gave to the Environmental Review Commission of the General Assembly last week draws attention to a an unforeseen plan to explore areas in western NC for natural gas. The report included a list of feasibility studies for fracking, which I presume to mean exploratory wells for core samples, though the article does not specify what the studies will fully entail. The point that raised eyebrows was the identification of a feasibility study in western NC:

the list included a rare mention of a site in the mountain area, identified only as a “precambrian rift basin” in “western NC.”

I admit that I have not really studied the geology of North Carolina in more than 10 years, but considering those precambrian basins are more than 540 million years, those formations have not changed much. I cannot imagine that those precambrian basins are anything but crystalline rock, and though they may be porous, any gas that was there is probably cooked.

Presentation slides from Mitch Gillespie to NCGA Environmental Review Commission

Thanks to a commenter on the article, he points to a nugget of policy presented to the Environmental Review Commission that has a huge impact on local jurisdiction:

…municipalities will not be allowed to prohibit fracking within their boundaries.

There has been a lot of attention given to Colorado after several municipalities there voted earlier this month to ban fracking. Clearly, the legislation in North Carolina has preempted that option for local governments. The state does have that power as they are the body to recognize legal standing of municipalities and counties, but this prohibition on localities is heavy-handed.

BT

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“The End of Country” by Seamus McGraw: a thoughtful perspective on fracking

I finally read “The End of Country” and want to encourage everyone in the potential fracking areas of North Carolina to go to your local bookstore and buy this book or go to your public library and check the book out. Quite simply, his book is appropriately titled, and the content moves from historical, journalistic, anecdotal, and to personal, all of which provide a thorough perspective on life in a fracking area.

Back in March, I had the opportunity to hear Seamus McGraw speak at a forum at UNC-Charlotte, and even walked and talked with him there to ask for his insight. You may remember a post I wrote summarizing that forum, and then sharing Seamus’ advice to have a comprehensive plan around energy policy, energy use, land and resource use. He preceded his speech then with acknowledging he is neither for or against fracking, and has two wells on his property in northeastern Pennsylvania; the book is basically a 250-page explanation of how those wells came to be.

McGraw did his homework in writing this book. He describes the history of natural gas “mining” in nearby Fredonia, New York, in the 1820’s, and then the development of the “Drake well” in Titusville, PA, the first [commercial] oil well in the US.  And then he describes how slick water fracking was developed, almost by accident. Mitchell Energy’s development of fracking as a means to extract natural gas trapped in rock formations almost retired with an effective but inefficient practice; likewise, many petroleum geologists in Pennsylvania almost missed the primary source of natural gas, aiming at other strata around the Marcellus Shale.

The strength of the book comes from the in depth interviews McGraw had with people on the ground, starting with his grandmother. It was his grandmother’s property that he and his sister would inherit that raised the question of why someone would knock on her door to offer money for signing a mineral lease on that land. His research led him through the infamous town of Dimock. He spoke with land owners there, some of whom had not signed a lease, at least not initially. He also spoke with landmen. He heard from neighbors who sought consumer representation as a group. He spoke with Terry Engelder at Penn State. The following are some insights I’ve gotten from the book, and encourage others to share as well.

* The landmen are simply doing their job. They want happy customers and therefore willing to work patiently with property owners, but their job is to get leases signed for the gas-producing company, and get those leases grouped over the gas-producing formations without giving up too much in the process.

* The geology is vital to where a well will be located. This may seem obvious, but it is actually in the details of how the rock formation has been stretched and strained that influences the alignment of the pores where the gas is trapped. Identifying the orientation of these built-in fractures in the formation helps economize how the driller should directionally drill to extract the most gas with the least disturbance.

* One proposed alternative to fracking with water is to frack with a nitrogen gel: the nitrogen would dissipate into the atmosphere, reduce water use, and thereby eliminate the need to control large volumes of fracking wastewater. McGraw actually describes how the first attempts by Mitchell to do hydraulic fracturing relied on a nitrogen foam or gel, but these inconsistent results, especially in deeper wells. For us, though, the orientation of the Cumnock may actually be better suited for this nitrogen gel. The water resources specialist with DER has reassured that there is plenty of water in the Deep River to supply fracking opertations, but considering the fracking wastewater – both the return water and the produced water – has been problematic, anything we can do to reduce the volume of wastewater should be practiced.

* Unknowing consumers have gotten a raw deal, therefore we need very real consumer protection from the state. Those that signed leases early, such as many of the folks in Dimock, got a fraction of what property owners received later. The Marcellus gained recognition for a wealth of shale gas, but the early leases paid very little per acre, and only the Pennsylvania minimum for royalties. This resulted a gross reality of haves and have-mores, and still a lot of have-nots. We know the situation in North Carolina is such that many property owners signed a lease that is not beneficial to them – or of course, property was unknowingly bought and sold without the mineral rights. I do not know fo any course of action property owners may take to renegotiate their mineral lease, but this is exactly the kind of situation to create severe mistrusts within a community.

* There is an overwhelming feeling that fracking is a last resort. Yes, land owners have achieved financial security by opening their place to fracking. But McGraw writes about the perceptions of disparate voices that felt a common dread about the industrialization of their region. He wrote of unlikely alliances that formed to fight for consumer and environmental protection, and how they all recognized the land would never be the same. He also wrote about families that could no longer afford for the land to be the same – how farm subsidies have not risen at the rate expenses have and how communities were losing their next generation of workforce for the lack of opportunities: receiving a signing bonus for their mineral rights would let these families stay on their land.

I encourage you to read this book whether you are pro-fracking or against fracking. The book is informative and entertaining, and never do you feel he is trying to persuade you, the reader. The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, Circle City Books in Pittsboro, and the Central Carolina Community College Bookstore should have copies of “The End of Country” available, and if they do not, ask them to order it. Lee County Public Library in Sanford has the book in its stacks.

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Why I am opposed to Fracking in NC

I have done my best to keep this blog objective: neither for or against fracking. I try to present information as facts, and/or put information in context for the region, only occasionally expressing my opinion. Through this process, I have read and heard a lot of information regarding fracking, and I am at a point now where I must state that I believe hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in North Carolina should not occur.

The principle reason I oppose fracking is the forked-tongue attitude toward science displayed by the industry and policy-makers. I have mentioned several times on this blog that the technology of hydraulic fracturing is incredible – I am awestruck by the ability to drill thousands of feet beneath the surface, determine exactly which strata to turn the drill bit, and drill directionally along that specific bed of rock. That technology is only possible with advanced scientific knowledge. Industry executives assure the public that fracking is safe because of the fine-tuned technology and scientific expertise of the geologist on the drilling crew.

Then the same industry executives dismiss – and actively discredit – scientific data that documents water contamination linked to fracking. Science is not something which we can pick and choose, but can only enhance via additional study to better understand causes and effects. It is disrespectful and downright irresponsible for industry leaders, and policy-makers, to say in one sentence “trust the science” and in the very next sentence say “the science is flawed.”

Meanwhile, contempt for science has crept into the public, and unfortunately into public policy. The natural gas industry is happily playing along with this shift towards scientific illiteracy despite relying on highly trained and skilled scientists. Despite a growing solar industry here in NC, the state has backed off requirements for electric utilities to diversify their energy sources with renewable sources, and is clearly opening the state for fossil fuel extraction on land and offshore. The General Assembly has openly poo-pooed climate science and the data documenting human-impacted climate change, and this has produced extremely short-sighted legislation. The McCrory Administration has shown a similar contempt for science in the easing of regulations at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, with its change in mission towards “customer” service. The public are the ultimate customers and should be outraged by this. Environmental regulations, which are developed with good scientific data on the environment’s capacity to dissipate hazards, present another area in which the natural gas industry has a forked tongue approach by demanding non-disclosure agreements and continued exemptions from the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act: trust the science, doubt the science.

The broad shift towards natural gas has been a net win for carbon emissions over the past couple years, and natural industry leaders point to this success in citing Carbon emissions being their lowest since 1992. But then, many industry leaders fall in line with the climate-change deniers to block development of a more sustainable energy portfolio. Natural gas is still a fossil fuel, even if it does burn cleaner than coal and oil.

Furthermore, the issue of energy efficiency must be included in our energy plan, and is indeed something that can be done immediately should we have the collective will to not just fund but significantly expand weatherization programs. Too many homes across the state are using excess electricity to heat and cool the great outdoors through poorly insulated roofs and walls and leaky windows and doors – and note that these energy-gobbling homes are not confined to low-wealth communities.

A policy developed on willfully selective science simply cannot be trusted. I have discussed fracking with several people at various MEC study group meetings over the past several months, and I agree that there is a lot of land in western Lee County that is not valuable agriculturally. Shifting the land use from agricultural to industrial (which is what fracking on one’s property is) may be a good option for landowners to gain greater livelihood from their property. In my interactions with the MEC and its study group members, I admire the care and openness with which they have carried out their charge. But I must stand against fracking in North Carolina until we have a full scale strategy to address our long term needs and use our natural resources in the wisest manner possible: address energy efficiency first and foremost, develop regulations and a comprehensive energy plan based in the advanced scientific knowledge we have on energy demand, energy sources, and the risks associated with each of those sources.

-BT

Then again, Fracking may come soon anyway

A report this morning that the Governor himself has canceled a trip to Aspen in order to stick around for the end of the legislative session, and to personally push SB 127 with a provision in there to open fracking sooner than the compromised date of July 2015. Here’s the report from John Murawski in the N&O:

A complex fracking policy has unexpectedly emerged in the waning days of the state legislative session, giving rise to fears that lawmakers are making a last-ditch push to repeal North Carolina’s moratorium on shale gas exploration.

The move comes after a recent attempt to lift the moratorium failed to get past House lawmakers who said they intended to keep their pledge to citizens not to allow shale gas exploration until all safety regulations were in place.

But now the state House and Senate are poised to take up the complicated fracking bill that has not been reviewed by a committee or studied at length by lawmakers. The legislation, added into Senate Bill 127 which deals with changes to the Department of Commerce, surfaced Wednesday, the result of eleventh-hour negotiations with lawmakers and the environmental regulators who would oversee fracking here.

Gov. Pat McCrory unexpectedly visited the legislature for an hour on Wednesday and met with Republicans in a legislative strategy session. On his way out of the building, McCrory said he wanted to get an update on key legislation, adding: “I’m interested in energy. Energy development is what’s going to get us moving on the economy.”

The measure includes new provisions that would repeal a key feature in last year’s energy law that expressly prohibits issuing fracking permits to drilling companies until the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission writes safety rules and the legislature approves those rules. Instead of a prohibition, the bill says the state could issue drilling permits as of July 1, 2015, provided that fracking rules “have become effective.”

The chairman of the Mining and Energy Commission, James Womack, a Republican commissioner in Lee County, was surprised by the legislation.

“We didn’t know about it,” said Womack. “All it does is introduce confusion.”

Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democratic from Guilford County, said the new language is an open door to issue permits by a specific date, whether the state is ready or not to oversee shale gas exploration.

“They continue to go back on their word,” Harrison said of Republican lawmakers who want to take steps to encourage the energy industry to drill here.

Rep. Mike Hager, a Rutherfordton Republican who has been active in the negotiations, said Senate Bill 127 would not undo the protections in the current law.

He acknowledged the bill may not come to a vote if it remains divisive among Republicans, but he’s confident his colleagues’ anxieties will by assuaged by the time the vote is scheduled Thursday. Hager said some Republicans are wary of last-minute legislation that alters the fracking bill passed last year. The bill, which passed by a single vote, contained explicit language to prohibit the issuance of fracking permits.

“Anything to do with fracking is going to be controversial,” he said. “We don’t want to create the appearance that we’re speeding this up, that we’re recklessly going into this.”

The most complex fracking parts in Senate Bill 127 relate to a severance tax program on the oil and gas industry, based on the grade and quantity of fossil fuel extracted. The money raised by taxing drilling operations would go to local governments, emergency funds and other uses.

Hager said the Mining and Energy Commission will also review severance taxes in the coming year, and the commission’s advice could help modify state law, but this legislation sets a direction.

“We want to attract business, so we don’t want to have the highest severance tax,” Hager said. He said bargain-basement taxes are also a bad idea but said North Carolina should have lower taxes as a matter of public policy.