Tag Archives: economic impact

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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Workshop for landowners scheduled in Sanford, Dec. 14th

Just passing notice of this workshop for concerned landowners scheduled for December 14th at the McSwain Center in Sanford. The workshop is being organized by RAFI and the Southern Environmental Law Center. Click the link below for the official flyer for more information.

RAFI & SELC Landowner workshop flyer

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Forced pooling and its potential impact

I am remiss that I did not pass along this information when it was first published by RAFI, but they have put together a very easy-to-follow explanation and graphic on the impact of the Compulsory Pooling policy in Lee County.

Graphic put together by RAFI demonstrating the impact of Compulsory Pooling. See their website, linked at the top of this post, for the narrative and a number of helpful, informative links.

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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“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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Agenda for April 24th meeting of the Compulsory Pooling Study Group

The agenda for tomorrow’s Compulsory Pooling Study Group meeting is copied and pasted below. Note the duration of the meeting is stretched out compared to previous meetings: the group has a lot to discuss between now and their deadline to provide recommendations to the MEC. I hope the public continue to attend these study group meetings despite the level of detail the groups get into on technical issues; group members have continued to show great respect in addressing questions from the public. {On a side but serious note, I am unclear what happens to unaddressed issues if the study groups do not put together a comprehensive list of recommendations before October 2013.}

NORTH CAROLINA MINING AND ENERGY COMMISSION

April 26, 2013, 9:00 am to 1:30 pm

McSwain Agricultural Center, 2420 Tramway Road

Sanford, NC

printable agenda

I. Preliminary Matters

1. Call to Order and Notice of NCGS 138A-15 Ray Covington, Chairman

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.

II. Action Items

2. Cost Sharing in Other States-  Jim Dewbre, Senior Vice President for Land and Business Development, Southwestern Energy

3. Group Recommendations on Cost Sharing and Payment Structures- Chairman Covington

4. Group Recommendations on Indemnification Issues-  Chairman Covington

III. Information Items

5. Opening Discussion on Reporting and Notice Requirements-  John Humphrey

6. LUNCH BREAK

7. Opening Discussion on When to Compel Pooling-  Chairman Covington

Discussion to include whether or not to allow compulsory pooling, pooling of special lands, territorial scope of pooling order, compelling pooling of leased rights to different operators, and allowing drill-through access

8. Agendas for the Next Two Meeting-s  Chairman Covington

May 17 printable agenda

May 31 printable agenda

9. Public Questions and Comments- Chairman Covington

IV. Closing Comments- Chairman Covington

The State of Things discusses fracking in NC

Great episode of The State of Things yesterday discussing fracking in NC with the reporter who has done the series shared here, Vik Rao of the MEC, Ryke Longest of Duke’s Nicholas Institute, and Elaine Chiosso of the Haw River Assembly. The discussion went into a little more detail than what the series have been able to address. What is really fascinating to hear on here is where the panelists agree on issues related to wastewater treatment, storage, and disposal, compulsory pooling, regulatory “teeth,” and the known unknowns of fracking fluids. The area they really did not dig too deeply into is the economic impact, though Rao specifically said we do not really know what that will be until more exploration is done. I actually have to agree with him there since we have very limited data on the hydrocarbon content in our Triassic Basin’s shale beds, though can still address how we want North Carolina to turn the typical boom-bust cycle on its head if fracking happens.

What Is The Future Of Fracking In North Carolina?