Tag Archives: public policy

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

 

Agenda for MEC meeting, Tuesday, January 14, 2014

NORTH CAROLINA

MINING AND ENERGY COMMISSION

January 14, 2014

9:00 a.m.

Archdale Building Ground Floor Hearing Room

512 N. Salisbury St.

Raleigh, NC

To join the meeting:
https://denr.ncgovconnect.com/mec011414/

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Draft Minutes from December 6th

MEC Quarterly Report

Sign In Sheets

 AGENDA

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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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.

-BTEnhanced by Zemanta

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

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.

North Carolina’s regulators trying to do their job, impeded by General Assembly

A nice “tip of the hat” to the process that the MEC is making to do what they’ve been charged to do in the face of powerful legislative elements charging forward despite them. Yes, this piece has plenty of opinion in it, but it provides a nice perspective and is well worth reading. Personally, I want to acknowledge the openness that the MEC has endeavored to honor with public participation. I also acknowledge I am way behind on writing on on-goings with the issue, which I hope to jump back into in the near future.

-BT