Category Archives: Triple bottom line

Looking at the effectiveness of shale gas drilling to addressing the triple bottom line: environment, social justice, and economic development

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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Sanford/Lee County talk of fracking impacts

I noticed this little piece in the Sanford Herald a couple weeks ago in which MEC Chair/Lee County Commissioner Jim Womack spoke to a Chamber of Commerce luncheon focused on public policy. I want to tease out a few parts of this, and include some letters to the editor int he same newspaper discussing what was said at that event and related concerns about fracking development in the region (and let me say kudos to those who took the time to write and submit those comments).

By November or December, seismic testing trucks known as “thumpers” will be seen around Lee County, Womack said. Preliminary drilling for core samples could begin by next spring or summer…

I borrow from what my good friend at Golder Associates told me about thumpers, enhanced by the description Seamus McGraw included in his book, these are devices that shoot a pulse into the ground and measures the sound waves of its echo(s). The different strata of rock will reflect the sound waves differently, allowing geologists to better delineate how deep and thick those strata are. These should not too invasive as firms may regularly use these to find groundwater. The preliminary drilling should enhance knowledge of the strata as well, not only on depth, thickness, and orientation of the rock formations, but also allow analysis on the porosity and chemistry of those formations. Remember I talked about the estimate on the amount of natural gas ‘trapped’ in the Cumnock Formation by the geologist at Clemson University, which he did via a “back of the envelope” calculation based on the dimension of the formation? Getting the details on porosity and chemistry will refine that estimate, and though those test wells themselves may be a minor nuisance, it is a valuable step to help clarify how much gas we really have, and how feasible it will be to extract it. Perhaps a good analogy is getting a biopsy. I don’t know if it is reassuring or not about the timing of the exploratory wells: DENR Assistant Secretary Mitch Gillespie predicted back in March that such wells would be drilled in late 2013.

Keely Wood, a Lee County horse farm owner and fracking opponent, said five Texas towns have been left without water in the wake of natural gas drilling. She asked how Lee or Chatham counties would fare any different, and Womack responded that the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources did a study and found that in just half a day, enough gallons flow through the Deep River to provide for all the water local drilling operations would ever need.

Based on the formula that DENR used to calculate water supply, which I am paraphrasing from the 2012 Shale Gas Report, I believe the Deep River does have sufficient flow to supply water to fracking operations. The calculation is something like 20% flow during the lowest recorded 7-day period of flow. As we should remember too well, the drought of 2007 was beyond severe, and we have good record of that flow. If flow in the Deep River during that drought met these minimum standards, than there is sufficient water supply to support this industrial use. The supply of raw water for fracking does not concern me the way that storage, treatment, and disposal of “return” or “produced” water does – and clearly, others are concerned enough to voice it.

I am glad Keely Wood submitted a full letter to the editor after this luncheon to express items not fully addressed there – the comments, though relatively few, show how polarized our society has become, particularly how individuals gloss over nuance and go straight to categorizing individuals at end points of the spectrum. This is a void of leadership – and I must say, in my observation of Jim Womack during MEC and study group meetings, I say he has been very level-handed. But somebody needs to step in between to say that supporting an initiative should not be done by knocking down those with an opposing perspective.

A similar letter begs the question of how widespread the “riches” of fracking will be, and I couldn’t but think on that a bit more this morning. His insights deserve an explanation of how the fees and taxation of fracking will benefit Lee County as a whole. I thought on the back-of-the-envelope calculations (cited above) ranging from potentially $200 million to $5 billion: when comparing that estimate against the DENR projection of 378 wells in the Triassic Basin, that ranges from $530,000 to $13.2 million per well. Remember that the development of a well is approximately $3 million. Of course, each well would have different results, some bringing up much more than average resources, while others bring much less.

“I think you’ll see our median family income go up 50 percent,” he said. “I think you’ll see that instead of the highest unemployment rate in central Carolina, we’ll have the lowest.”

Given what we know of the situation in Lee County: the inequal holdings of mineral rights, the number of property owners bound to unfavorable lease agreements, the relatively short duration for drilling development (all 378 wells in 8 years), and the lesser period of time for high labor demands (not to mention the question of qualified local workforce for this industry), the community deserves a thorough explanation on how development of natural gas extraction will boost median family income and how unemployment will fall.

BT

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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

Agenda for the Funding Levels and Potential Funding Sources study group meeting Monday afternoon in Raleigh

The agenda for the Funding Levels and Funding Sources study group meeting is below. Hyperllinks in the text of the agenda were added by me. I personally will not be able to attend, but would be very curious to hear what this group discusses. I must express a bit of sorrow to see the study group meetings attended by less and less people: now is the time to help develop regulations. The funding sources and levels can be the way in which a community may avoid the “bust” half of the boom-bust cycle and actually use the profits from mineral extraction to make long term investments in the physical and civic infrastructure of the community.

 FUNDING LEVELS AND POTENTIAL FUNDING SOURCES STUDY GROUP

of the

NORTH CAROLINA MINING AND ENERGY COMMISSION

April 22, 2013

1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Archdale Building – 5th Floor Conference Room

1. Call to Order and Notice of NCGS 138A-15 – Ms. Jane Lewis-Raymond, Director

In accordance with the State Government Ethics Act, it is the duty of every member of the North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission to avoid conflicts of interest and potential conflicts. If any member knows of a conflict of interest or potential conflict with respect to matters coming before the Committee today, please identify the conflict or potential conflict at this time.

 

2.  Introductions – Ms. Jane Lewis-Raymond, Director

3.  Approval of the April 1, 2013 Minutes – Ms. Jane Lewis-Raymond, Director

4.  Review of Proposed Draft Outline for Study Report – Ms. Jane Lewis-Raymond, Director

5.  Surface Land Owner Bond – Walt Haven, DEMLR

6.  What would a NC Impact Fee Structure look like? – Discussion – All

7.  Review of Proposed Draft Outline for Study Report and Report Drafting– Ms. Jane Lewis-Raymond, Director

8.  General Discussion – All

 

Fracking as viewed from the Queen City: UNC-Charlotte hosts a forum on fracking

The Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC) at UNC Charlotte hosted a Forum on Fracking Friday, March 8.  The event brought legislators, scientists, environmental advocates, industry representatives, consultants, public health specialists together, and was headlined by a Pennsylvania landowner. Three different summaries of the event are provided by WFAE, Charlotte Observer, and WSOC-9. I think the reports from these outlets reflect range of the thoughts and challenges surrounding fracking, especially considering WSOC-9 seemed to report on the topic as if most of their audience has never heard of it. The timing of this forum was a little unfortunate since it occurred the same day as the Mining and Energy Commission’s meeting in Raleigh (and I’m trying to catch up on the audio of that meeting and the associated committee meetings).

Representative Mike Hager began the day with his critique of SB 76, and it is encouraging to hear the same apprehensiveness about the bill that has been expressed here. Later in the day, Mitch Gillespie, now Assistant Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, echoed similar concerns about SB 76, though he said without much elaboration “there are several good things in SB 76.” So let me say outright: Gillespie was still playing the role of legislator despite his best effort to wear the regulator hat. Too often in his presentation, he was unfamiliar of the science of the Triassic Basins, and when describing where other sources of shale gas may be, offered statements like “North Carolina needs to be a player in the energy industry.” He also quoted the DENR Shale Gas Study wrong in that the NC Department of Commerce estimates to a 7 year period to extract the gas, not that it’s a 5-year supply, adding that “the state geologist thinks there’s a 40 year supply of gas there.”

Dr. Larry Murdoch of Clemson presented some calculations earlier in the morning on the amount of gas, providing a range of gas from half a trillion cubic feet to 2 trillion cubic feet, though the realistic estimate is about 1 trillion cubic feet. These calculations were revised from a similar talk he gave at UNC-Chapel Hill in January 2012. The calculation of the volume of gas is based on the dimensions of the Cumnock Formation within the Sanford sub basin of the Deep River Basin.  Based on a slightly higher value of gas than its current price in the market, that 1 trillion cubic feet is worth approximately $5 billion. But note, the low end of the range could leave that gas worth $500 million. Murdoch outlined several risks, acknowledging the rewards could be high, but ended with a simple list of action items:

  • develop regulations (in process),
  • establish fees to be collected (set for bonding, drilling; needs fleshing out for oversight, water treatment and disposal),
  • outreach (which is underway, and I, for one, am satisfied with the quickness with which DENR has posted material to the MEC portal, and the opportunities for public comment/questions at the MEC meetings, and at least the study group meetings)
  • monitoring (which is underway with the water quality sampling being done by Duke and USGS in Lee and Chatham Counties, and also with the seismic monitoring being done by UNC-Chapel Hill)

Then Seamus McGraw stepped forward to provide the keynote address, and how refreshing it is to be in an academic setting and a speaker comes to simply speak: no powerpoint presentation, no photos or charts, but just a bag of coal and a copy of his book. Yes, a bag of coal. He began his talk by explaining he has a couple of fracking wells on his land in Pennsylvania, but he is ambivalent about it. He said outright that if someone comes in and says there are no risks to fracking, they are lying, but if someone else comes in to say there are no rewards, they are lying as well. So he won’t throw the first stone, but he did throw a bag of coal into the middle of the center walkway:

That right there is 18 pounds of coal, which is how much each American is responsible for burning each day.

He expounded upon our hunger for energy and how it relied on such resources being pulled from the earth to power our economy and lifestyles, and this 18 pounds of coal is better than what it used to be with the shift to natural gas. But despite natural gas burning cleaner, and at least leaving some mountain tops in tact, it is still a fossil fuel. And as opponents to fracking have lined up to protest the practice, property owners, farmers, families have made the tough choice to sign mineral leases as a means to pay the bills for at least another year, and no one can fault them for that. Interestingly, here is the perspective of a landowner with fracking wells on his property, and he said quite plainly:

Fracking isn’t the problem I’m concerned about… it’s all the associated activity around fracking.

Generators run on diesel fuel. Trucks transporting material in and out run on diesel. The exhaust and the spills from these machines are astoundingly messy. He described a time when he was meeting with a representative of a gas developer, and drove away from a fracking well but was weary he may run out of gas before getting back to the office. Yet, they had been 100 feet from this energy source coming out of the ground: how come we are not using the very energy we are obtaining to run the equipment? All across Pennsylvania, he cited this kind of ad hoc development of wells, compressors, transportation networks, with little to no coordination of the resources.

After Seamus’ presentation, representatives from Piedmont Natural Gas, Clear Air Carolina, and from the consulting firm of Haley and Aldrich each frequently referred back to points Seamus had made. Piedmont Natural Gas was talking about the lowered carbon emissions due to the shift to natural gas from coal, but was also highlighting the effort to coordinate infrastructure and support systems: he had charts displaying the very real cost savings natural gas represents to North Carolinians (note: that’s the usage of natural gas, not the extraction of). The presentation from Piedmont Natural Gas mentioned the redirecting of the east coast pipeline that will transport gas from Pennsylvania to the gulf, actually making access in North Carolina more cost effective.

There was a second panel discussion in the afternoon focusing the job potential that natural gas development may bring, and the panel included a trade specialist (pipelines and associated infrastructure), a public health and environmental remediation specialist, and a representative from Hess Corporation. The best comment from this panel was the advice to “ride the boom,” meaning to take advantage of the financial rewards from extraction to make sound forward-thinking investments and plan carefully to avoid the bust cycle. Jobs won’t come from fracking directly, and definitely won’t last, so make investments in civic and physical infrastructure to facilitate sustained job growth in the region. Several panelists in the afternoon hinted that with industry not being present in the state, the lack of technically trained worforce, the relative small area of gas-rich shale, and the current low price for gas, North Carolina’s resources may best be set aside as a sort of “rainy day fund.”

The consultants provided some great perspective, as they have experience in planning for the development of gas extraction as well as experience in cleaning up their mishaps. One consultant accurately stated that despite the great effort to reuse fracking water, which the MEC is hoping to incentivize in its rules, the treatment and disposal is merely delayed: eventually that water will run out of wells to be reused in. The other consultant, who sat on the panel with the Clean Air Carolina representative and a researcher from UNC-Charlotte, quite astutely described that for fracking to be executed safely, there needs to be the right balance of technical, political, and societal will. The technical piece is there, though still refining its capabilities. The political will seems to be there, he said, given the state’s legislation and effort to develop a regulatory framework. The societal will is still a work in progress.

To me, that last point about the technical, political, and societal pieces aligning may be the most important part of the forum. It was echoed by the advice from the public health/environmental remediation expert, that a well planned industry will benefit the state in the long run. I was able to intercept Seamus McGraw during the lunch break and asked, based on his firsthand observation of fracking, how we can stretch out the boom portion of the cycle so that we can avoid the bust: he said it all comes down to planning for it – to have the vision for what it’s going to be, what it is going to cost, what we need to get out of it (note: this need for planning is exactly why I shared the announcement about the economic development forum in Lee County a couple weeks ago, as well as noting the need for volunteers on boards in Lee and Chatham Counties). His interview on WSOC-9 really captures the sentiment well:

I have not seen the kind of long-term planning that says where are we going to be in 30 years

BT