Tag Archives: DENR

Lab study cuts fracking waste’s radioactivity | The Sanford Herald

See this story linked below from the Associated Press by way of the Sanford Herald.

Lab study cuts fracking waste’s radioactivity | The Sanford Herald.

This is a curious find: flowback water mixed with “acid drainage from mining, or any other salty water” precipitates a good chunk of the radioactive material out of the water, thus binding it into a solid, more easily disposable form. I am not sure, in terms of isolating and removing radioactive materials, how much this differs from a standing practice of allowing the flowback water to sit in an open pit at the drill site and evaporate so the nasty material will be left behind.

What is encouraging is to see that after mixing the fluids, the research found that radioactive material was bound in solids, and the salinity of the water had diminished enough that it could be used again in fracking. That process saves some water supply while isolating materials to be handled as hazardous waste. Note that this is something that will be helpful in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, but not necessarily here in North Carolina since we do not have acid drainage from mining. {Ironically, it’s that acid wash that spilled in West Virginia causing 7 counties to be without public water supply, so this is still a nasty operation within a nasty operation.}

Also of note, since it was discussed today at the MEC meeting, the radioactivity of the disolved water in the flowback still has protection of the classified chemicals clause. We still don’t know what all is in the cocktail used in the slickwater fracturing process, but based on the discussion I heard in the meeting today (I was able to tune in to the middle portion, but not all of it: I would welcome more details on the meeting from those who were there or listened to the entire thing), the drilling operators would have to list on their permit request the chemicals to be used, and the state regulators would then acknowledge which are on the classified list. Regulators, as I understand it, would have to permit the site with appropriate chemical and wastewater storage, treatment, disposal, and spill response plan.

I am glad to see someone else in this article echo my feeling on the critical need for proper wastewater handling:

Tad Patzek, chairman and professor of the petroleum engineering
department at the University of Texas in Austin, cautioned that the
method could present problems in the field. The remaining water would
still be jam-packed with chemicals and toxins, he noted.

“That water can get spilled,” Patzek said. “That water can get into a shallow aquifer. There are many other considerations.”

The danger classification sign of radioactive ...


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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.


SB 76, the compromised version, heads to the Governor

The compromised version of SB 76, aka the Fracking Bill, passed its final votes and now heads to the Governor. Here’s the write up from WRAL.com on the contents of the bill:

The final compromise version of Senate Bill 76 is far more modest than the original measure, which would have allowed fracking to move ahead March 1, 2015, without an additional vote by state lawmakers.

That provision is absent from the final measure, which reinstates the original requirement for legislative approval of the rules for fracking before permits can be issued and drilling can begin.

The Senate version also abolished the “landmen registry” for agents handling mineral rights leases for landowners, while the House version put the registry back in. In the final version, the state Mining and Energy Commission is directed to study the concept.

The final version still allows the secretary of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources to replace the state geologist on the Mining and Energy Commission with another designee of his or her choice. It also removes requirements that commission appointees from the Environmental Resources Commission and Commission for Public Health have respective expertise in water and air resources and waste management.

it also still creates an Energy Policy Council and puts new emphasis on offshore oil and gas exploration.

The compromise, which was closer to the House’s version of the bill overall, won approval in the House with little debate Monday by a vote of 70-40.

The Senate followed suit Tuesday, albeit with less enthusiasm.

“We did the best we could,” said Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, the bill’s original Senate sponsor. “The House didn’t want to go along with some of the improvements we wanted to make.

“It’s a small step forward. It’s not quite as far as we wanted to go, but it’s the best we could do.”

No one spoke against the measure in the Senate. The vote was 37-11.

The NC DENR Shale Gas Study Final Report

The final report is available for download (albeit still without the section from the Dept. of Justice). Here is the press release: 

State Environmental Agency Issues Final Report on Hydraulic Fracturing


RALEIGH – Hydraulic fracturing can be done safely in North Carolina only if the General Assembly adopts state-specific regulatory standards and invests sufficient resources in compliance and enforcement prior to issuance of any permits for the practice, according to a report issued today by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The report also notes the need for additional research on North Carolina’s geology and hydrogeology to identify conditions under which hydraulic fracturing can be done without putting the state’s water resources at risk.


The report issues the department’s findings following an eight-month study of the potential environmental, social and economic impacts of shale gas exploration and development in North Carolina. This study was directed by Session Law 2011-276, which required DENR to study the issue of oil and gas exploration in the state and to specifically focus on the use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to extract shale gas. DENR issued a draft report in March and held three public meetings to receive comment on the draft; written comments were accepted through April 2. The final report to the General Assembly is due May 1.


After reviewing other studies and experiences in oil and gas-producing states, DENR concludes that information available to date suggests that hydraulic fracturing can be done safely as long as the right protections are in place. Hydraulic fracturing can only be done safely in North Carolina if the state adopts regulatory standards specifically adapted to conditions in North Carolina and invests sufficient resources in compliance and enforcement. Those protective measures should be in place before the state changes statutes and rules that currently prohibit horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.


As part of the report, DENR developed a set of initial recommendations in consultation with the Department of Commerce in the event the General Assembly acts to allow horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in North Carolina. The recommendations, which have been revised from the draft report in March based on public comment, include:

  • Provide funding for any continued work on the development of a state regulatory program for the natural gas industry.
  • Address the distribution of revenues from oil and gas excise taxes and fees to support the oil and gas regulatory program, fund environmental initiatives and support local governments impacted by the industry.
  • Collect baseline environmental quality data including groundwater, surface water and air quality information.
  • Require oil and gas operators to operate in compliance with a DENR-approved Water and Wastewater Management Plan, which should place limits on water withdrawals and prohibit withdrawals during times of drought and periods of low flows.
  • Develop a state stormwater regulatory program for oil and gas drilling sites.
  • Require full disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals and constituents to regulatory agencies and to local government emergency response officials prior to drilling. The state should encourage the industry to fully disclose the same information to the public and require public disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals and constituents with the exception of trade secrets already protected under state law.
  • Prohibit the use of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing fluids.
  • Develop specific transportation, storage and disposal standards for management of oil and gas wastes.
  • Develop a modern oil and gas regulatory program, taking into consideration the processes involved in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies, and long-term prevention of physical or economic waste in developing oil and gas resources.
  • Enhance existing oil and gas well construction standards to address the additional pressures of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
  • Develop setback requirements and identify areas (such as floodplains) where oil and gas exploration and production activities should be prohibited.
  • Close the gaps in regulatory authority over the siting, construction and operation of gathering pipelines.
  • Identify a source of funding for repair of roads damaged by truck traffic and heavy equipment.
  • Keep the environmental permitting program for oil and gas activities in DENR where it will benefit from the expertise of state geological staff and the ability to coordinate air, land and water permitting.
  • Improve data management capabilities and develop an e-permitting program that is easily accessible by the public.
  • Ensure that state agencies, local first responders and industry are prepared to respond to a well blowout, chemical spill or other emergency.
  • Clarify the extent of local government regulatory authority over oil and gas exploration and production activities.
  • Address the natural gas industry’s liability for environmental contamination caused by exploration and development, particularly for groundwater contamination.
  • Provide additional opportunities for public participation in the development of detailed standards to govern gas exploration and development.
  • Complete additional research on:
    • closed-loop systems and the potential for prohibiting open wastewater pits;
    • the ability of the air toxics program to protect landowners who lease their land for natural gas extraction and production activities;
    • air emissions from hydraulic fracturing operations;
    • the shale gas resource; and
    • groundwater resources in the Triassic basins.

These recommendations do not take into account information from the N.C. Department of Justice’s section of the report on consumer protection, because DENR had not received that section of the report in time for preparation of the recommendations and final report. For information on consumer protection related to shale gas exploration and production, please contact Noelle Talley at NCDOJ at 919-716-6484.


DENR’s report can be found online on a website created to provide an overview of the shale gas issue; describe current regulations associated with shale gas exploration; and provide the study results. This website can be found by visiting DENR’s home page – www.ncdenr.gov – and clicking on the “Shale Gas” tab near the center of the page.



The writing was on the wall.

With the release of the draft Shale Gas study from DENR has come some heavy disappointment among many people in North Carolina. I want to share a post that I drafted more than a month ago (and I am remiss that I did not post these thoughts at that time) that sheds light as to why the report, along with Governor Perdue’s statement on the issue, came as no surprise to me.

At the risk of sounding non-objective, it’s time I write an opinion on the subject of hydraulic fracturing in North Carolina. I will say that this opinion is formed based on review of information, and not on what I want. Here goes:

It will be permitted.

Let me explain. There is technology elsewhere in the country that the energy industry uses to extract resources that lie in some of the rocks of this state, yet there are laws written decades ago before the technology existed prohibiting the use of that technology. These old laws are inhibiting landowners from exercising their mineral rights. As stated by a member of the legislature back in December, ‘this General Assembly leans towards individual property rights’ (when asked about local versus state regulations). For these two reasons, I believe the laws will be updated in a way to allow hydraulic fracturing, with some regulations connected to it. Whether fracking is done or not will then be up to the market.

Now, on the morning of March 18, 2012, let me add a little something to this. Remember there was the study released by the Energy Institute at University of Texas during the AAAS conference that cited no direct contamination of aquifers due to hydraulic fracturing. I want to refer to the summary of that report posted on the BBC website, which includes a good interview with Dr. Charles Groat who headed that study. Listen to the interview. The study cites that the technique of fracturing does not contaminate groundwater, but the whole process of well development, which the public believes is ‘fracking,’ must be studied by “scientists and regulators” to assess true best practices. Bad practices must be eliminated.

So, what DENR’s study says (as far as I’ve read it to this point) is the same thing, basically: ok, this can be done, but in order to actually fracture our hydrocarbon-rich shale beds, we need all the precautions in place to make sure it is done with minimal impact. And as the STRONGER analysis indicated, the state has a great regulatory entity in place with DENR, but not enough on gas and oil regulation. Stay tuned to see how those regulations develop.

Side note: there was another part to that original draft that highlighted several groups I came across that were flat out opposing Fracking. Here is what I wrote:

Numerous groups are galvanizing opposition to the practice of hydraulic fracturing altogether, like one I just tripped across, the Deep River Clean Water Society, while I was searching for a report on the event hosted by the Durham-Orange Sierra Club last week. The ongoing work by Clean Water for North Carolina was recognized by the Independent Weekly with a Citizen Award. The NC Conservation Network, Sierra Club of North Carolina, and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League all have information on how as a resident (or non-resident, for that matter) may work to ‘keep fracking out of North Carolina!’ – I encourage you to check out their campaigns if you feel strongly against it yourself.

I am not a fan of fracking, but I also saw in those stances the need for preparation for it: if we spend so much energy opposing something that is villianized, we create an adversarial environment that will divide communities and thereby miss opportunities to make the absolute best of the situation. All stakeholders on this must work together.


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