Lawmakers question fracking waste

by Michelle Saxton
Wednesday, March 6, 2013

CRC faces restructuring

Injecting fracking waste into wells and the potential for such wells to be located in coastal areas were among concerns about a bill that would allow North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources to issue permits starting in March 2015 for oil and gas exploration using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

“You’d have to convince me that the injection of those wastes would not cause a problem to anybody a thousand years from now before I could support it,” Rep. Rick Catlin, R-New Hanover, said in a phone interview Tuesday, March 5.

North Carolina lawmakers passed a bill last session that authorized fracking for oil and natural gas exploration but prohibited issuing permits pending legislative action. 

Catlin questioned where fracking waste would be disposed.

“If you’re going to inject waste in the aquifer it’s difficult to do in the Piedmont because there’s just not as much permeability; and if they’re looking at high volumes then I would suspect that they would start looking at the coastal plain,” Catlin said. “We’ve got unconsolidated, sandy aquifers, in some cases pretty deep.”

Hydraulic fracturing involves high-pressure pumping of water, sand and chemicals into a subsurface rock formation to create fractures for the increased flow of gas and oil. 

“The waste that comes out of a well that they’ve done hydraulic fracturing in does not have to be disposed of by injecting it in the aquifer; it can be treated,” Catlin added. “That’s what I had always assumed they would be doing. So this option to inject it back into the aquifers is concerning; and I don’t believe that we have enough geologic data to be able to make an evaluation on that right now.”

Senate Bill 76 passed the Senate in February and was expected to come before several House committees, including the House Environment Committee, of which Catlin is a vice chairman.   

Legislative action last session to reconstitute the Mining and Energy Commission and direct members to develop modern regulatory reform for hydraulic fracturing in oil and gas exploration was a good decision, Catlin said, adding the new bill is a faster process.

“I don’t see the need from the private sector to rush this,” Catlin said. “The House version was more methodical and I’d like to continue with that approach on addressing the environmental issues.” 

Regulatory and safety standards must be in place by October 2014, according to the bill. 

The bill includes a 1 percent state severance tax on shale gas resources that gradually increases to 6 percent by 2020, Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, Pender, Bladen and New Hanover, has said.

“Revenues would be used to fund DENR’s oil and gas regulatory program, create a $10 million energy planning and management fund and contribute to North Carolina’s General Fund,” Rabon said in an e-mail newsletter from February. 

Government Reorganization and Efficiency Act

The latest version of Senate Bill 10, which targets several state boards and commissions — including the Coastal Resources Commission — for reorganization or elimination, failed concurrence on Tuesday, March 5, and a conference committee was appointed.

The House voted 71 to 43 on Monday, March 4, to pass its version of SB10, yet Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, argued the bill was not about reform but about special interests.

“Make no mistake about it — we’re lowering the number of patronage positions in the areas of environmental protection and consumer protection,” Ross said in an online audio feed of the March 4 House session. “That doesn’t do any good for the state of North Carolina.”

Rep. Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, argued the bill is needed reform for state appointments that perpetuate a “good old boys” system.

“We have boards that are infiltrated with people that have a very left-leaning bent, and we’re just trying to bring these boards and commissions back to the center where the majority of the voters lie,” Starnes said in the audio feed. 

Catlin and Rep. Ted Davis Jr., R-New Hanover, voted for the House version. 

Rep. Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover, voted against it.

The potential loss of institutional knowledge was a concern for Catlin, who said his focus was on the Coastal Resources Commission and Environmental Management Commission.

“We restored some of the qualifications, descriptions and positions, and we had a much higher level of continuity so that we didn’t end up with a clean sweep on all the boards,” Catlin said in the March 5 interview. “We were a lot more thoughtful and developed something that’s workable. It wasn’t a perfect solution but it was better.”

The Senate version had proposed changing the Coastal Resources Commission makeup from 15 members to 11 and removed experience designations from references to commercial fishing, wildlife or sports fishing, marine ecology, conservation, coastal agriculture and coastal forestry. 

The House version proposed 13 members on the CRC and restored references to fishing, wildlife, agriculture and forestry but not ecology or conservation.

The North Carolina Coastal Federation asked if conservation experience could be restored to CRC membership during conference committee meetings, Catlin said.


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