Tag Archives: environment

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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Agenda for MEC meeting, Tuesday, January 14, 2014



January 14, 2014

9:00 a.m.

Archdale Building Ground Floor Hearing Room

512 N. Salisbury St.

Raleigh, NC

To join the meeting:

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Draft Minutes from December 6th

MEC Quarterly Report

Sign In Sheets


1. Call to Order – James Womack, Chairman of the Mining and Energy Commission

2. Moment of Silence and Pledge of Allegiance

3. Welcome and Notice of NCGS 138A-15 – Chairman Womack

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 Commission today, please identify the conflict or potential conflict at this time.

4. Roll Call of Commission Members – Chairman Womack

5. Approval of Minutes from Last Meeting – Chairman Womack

6. Committee Reports (10 minutes each, plus time for questions)

Administration of Oil & Gas Committee – Charles Holbrook

Rules Committee – Amy Pickle

7. Study Group Reports

Coordinated Permitting Study Group and Review of Study Group Report – Dr. Kenneth Taylor

Protection of Trade Secrets and Proprietary Information Study Group – Chairman Womack

8. Administration – Chairman Womack

Review of 2014 meeting schedule and proposed timelines

9. Overview of Proposed Revisions to the EMC’s Water Quality Rules – Evan Kane, DWR

10. Discussion & Action on Chemical Disclosure Rule, Chairman’s Mark – Chairman Womack

11. Lunch Break – 30 minutes

12. Discussion & Action on Setback Rule – George Howard

13. Public Comment

The public comment period will be limited to a total of 10 speakers and each speaker will be allowed three minutes to speak. The sign-up sheet will be available in the Ground Floor Hearing Room from 8:30 a.m. until 12:00 p.m.

14. Concluding Remarks

a. Commission Members

b. Commission Counsel

c. Commission Chairman

15. Adjournment

Reminder to All MEC Members: Members having a question about a conflict of interest or potential conflict should consult with the Chairman or with legal counsel.

Reminder to MEC Members Appointed by the Governor: Executive Order 34 mandates that in transacting Commission business each person appointed by the Governor shall act always in the best interest of the public without regard for his or her financial interests. To this end, each appointee must recuse himself or herself from voting on any matter on which the appointee has a financial interest.

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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.


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Colorado study finds higher occurrence of contaminants near fracking sites

A researcher from the University of Missouri School of Medicine has found evidence of higher occurrence of endocrine disrupting chemicals near fracking sites when compared to presence in control areas. The study was published in the journal Endocrinology.

LATimes report on University of Missouri study finding endocrine disruptors at fracking sites

Based on the information in the abstract, the study collected samples from drilling sites, the Colorado River, and a control site in Missouri. The drilling sites had elevated levels of contaminants, and the Colorado River showed a higher level than that of the control site in Missouri. To be fair, the study does not indicate that these endocrine disrupting chemicals had been released directly into the natural system from fracking sites, but merely points to the evidence as indicating the increase in industrial activity in remote sites present a greater likelihood of contamination. The study certainly verifies the presence of endocrine disrupting chemicals in the fracking process (something, you may recall, that Josh Fox mentions highlights in Gasland without making a qualitative link).

I want to emphasize here again: wastewater storage, treatment, and disposal are the most critical pieces that must be in place for fracking to be any kind of success.


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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.


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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.


“Fracking wastewater contaminated – likely with radioactive material”

A study in Pennsylvania conducted by Duke was released earlier this week that revealed sediment downstream from wastewater treatment facilities where fracking wastewater had been processed contained radioactive material in 200 times greater concentration than the streambed above the facility. These radioactive contaminants have the chemical signature of the Marcellus Shale. The study has been publicized in numerous media outlets, but here’s the story as it appears in the Christian Science Monitor and from NBC News.

This is not a major surprise. Many geologists have noted that radioactive material lay in these shale beds, and flushing the formations with the fracking fluid would likely bring these contaminants out in solution. I recall a talk from Tony Ingraffea in which he put it: “the fracking process brings to the surface a bunch of stuff we should be happy are locked up and buried down there.”

Now, once again, realize this is not documenting that hydraulic fracturing is contaminating groundwater; no, it is the “produced” water, or wastewater from the fracked well, that is contaminated. Remember the study from University of Texas that concluded there were no links to fracking and water contamination (though the study is actually being redone since it was funded in large part by the inudstry)? Go back to my post from February 16, 2012 and see what I highlighted from that report: it’s the activity associated with fracking – the above ground handling of materials and waste that cause contamination. But fracking cannot be done without without producing waste at the surface.

Personally, I am weary of what elements are bound in our Triassic Basins that would come to the surface when fracked. I understand about the need to extract minerals from the earth for beneficial uses, but what sets fracking apart is the treatment of the flow back and produced water. Our wastewater treatment facilities are not equipped to treat this waste. Add to that something I have said before:  the set up of remote industrial sites that are fracking wells makes full wastewater treatment more difficult.