RALEIGH - Hydraulic fracturing can be done safely in North Carolina as long as the right protections are in place prior to issuance of any permits for the practice, according to a draft report issued today by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The report also notes the need for more information on groundwater resources in the area where drilling for shale gas may occur before making final decisions on environmental standards.
The report issues the department’s findings following a 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. The draft report was issued today ahead of two public meetings scheduled for later this month. The final report to the General Assembly is due May 1.
After reviewing other studies and experiences in oil and gas-producing states, the draft report concludes that hydraulic fracturing can be done safely as long as the right protections are in place, prior to issuing any permits for hydraulic fracturing in North Carolina. As part of the draft 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 include:
- Collection of baseline data, including groundwater, surface water and air.
- Requirement that oil and gas operators prepare and have a DENR-approved Water Management Plan and limit water withdrawals to 20 percent of the lowest stream flow that would be expected to occur for seven continuous days once in 10 years, or the 7Q10 stream flow.
- Enhancement of existing oil and gas well construction standards to address the additional pressures of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
- Development of an oil and gas waste management regulatory program, as well as the development of a state stormwater regulatory program for oil and gas drilling sites.
- Development of setback requirements and identification of areas (such as floodplains) where oil and gas exploration and production activities should be prohibited.
- Development of specific standards for management of oil and gas wastes.
- Requirement of full disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals and constituents to regulatory agencies. And, with the exception of trade secrets, requirement of public disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals and constituents.
- Prohibition of the use of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing fluids
- Assurance that state agencies, local first responders and industry are prepared to respond to a well blowout, chemical spill or other emergency.
- Development of 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.
- Location of the environmental permitting program for oil and gas activities in DENR where air, land and water quality permitting and enforcement expertise is located.
- Determination of 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.
- Identification of a source of funding for repair of roads damaged by truck traffic and heavy equipment.
- Clarification of the extent of local government regulatory authority over oil and gas exploration and production activities.
- Completion of additional research on impacts to local governments and local infrastructure; and additional research into potential economic impacts.
- Determination of the liability related to environmental contamination from the industry, particularly for groundwater contamination.
Findings from this draft report will be presented first in a public meeting to be held at the Wicker Center in Sanford on March 20, 2012, from 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. The second public meeting has been scheduled for March 27, 2012, and will take place in the auditorium of East Chapel Hill High School in Chapel Hill from 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. Both meetings will also be streamed live online at https://its.ncgovconnect.com/denr_shale_gas/.
The same information will be presented at both meetings, and public comments will be accepted at both meetings as well as via mail and email. Written comments on the draft report will be accepted through April 1, in addition to any feedback received at the two public meetings. Written comments can be sent via email to Shale_gas_comments@ncdenr.gov; or through the mail to NCDENR, attn: Trina Ozer, 1601 MSC, Raleigh, NC 27699.
The draft report can be found online on a website that NCDENR created to provide an overview of the shale gas issue; describe current regulations associated with shale gas exploration; explain how the department will study the issue (and provide study results when complete); and guide the public in how to receive updates on the study, as well as how to provide comment on the issue. 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, and then clicking on the "DENR Study" link on the left side of the page.