Staff photo by Emmy Errante
Roger Shew, a geology instructor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, gives a presentation on fracking to the League of Women Voters at McAlister’s Deli on Monday, Oct. 22.
Baseline data for water and air quality standards, good cementing jobs to protect water aquifers from contamination and tests to measure the cement’s integrity are among important steps North Carolina must take if it starts fracking for natural gas, a university teacher has said.
Roger Shew, lecturer at the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Department of Geography and Geology, spoke to members of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of the Lower Cape Fear on Monday, Oct. 22, at McAlister’s Deli on College Road.
North Carolina lawmakers voted earlier this year to override Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of Senate Bill 820, which authorizes horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and natural gas exploration. The bill bans the issuance of permits pending legislative action, and stipulates no drilling can occur before October 2014.
The bill calls for studies of oil and gas in the state’s Triassic Basins, methods of oil and gas exploration and extraction, potential environmental, economic and social impacts and appropriate regulatory requirements for fracking.
“SB 820 is the law,” Shew told the group gathered at the restaurant, later adding, “What we do now is make sure that we get the rules and regulations in place to make sure these things are done correctly.”
Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping water, sand and chemicals using high pressure to create fractures that allow for more flow of natural gas and oil. During his talk and in a follow-up email with Lumina News, Shew listed several potential benefits often cited such as: cheap and reliable energy supply, job creation, no reliance on foreign supplies and cleaner generation of energy with natural gas than coal.
Shew outlined concerns, including: groundwater contamination, treatment of return water and high volume of water needed (about 1 million to 7 million gallons per operation), emissions released during drilling and production and increased seismic activity. Cementing must be done correctly in drilling operations for safety and aquifer protection, Shew said. Air quality is another issue, and Shew said companies can capture gases at the well in processes known as green completions.
A 2011 House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce study reported more than 600 chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, including about 29 toxic chemicals, such as diesel.
Among SB 820 rules for a Mining and Energy Commission were the disclosure of chemicals used and a ban on diesel fuel in fracking.
“We’ve got to make sure that we’re ensuring that these guys do it,” said Shew, who encouraged audience members to voice their opinions with lawmakers about fracking.
The bill also called for collection of baseline data for groundwater, surface water and air quality.
“I should go in and know exactly what my groundwater is like before anybody does anything,” Shew said. “Because how can I compare later on?”
A U.S. Geological Survey study this year estimated about 1.66 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves in the Triassic Basins, or about 5.6 years worth of natural gas supply for North Carolina, Shew said. He also compared the Triassic Basins with the larger Marcellus Shale region farther north.
“When a politician gets on TV and says … there’s so much energy underneath our feet that we can be energy independent in North Carolina, take it with a grain of salt,” Shew said.
North Carolina uses coal, nuclear and natural gas energy and will continue relying on fossil fuels for several decades, Shew said, adding the state should continue to reduce reliance on fossil fuels while transitioning to cleaner and renewable energy and encourage conservation and efficiencies.
Shew also took audience questions, including one from Juanita Clemmons of Wilmington about regulations for testing cement well casings during fracking operations.
Different state rules may require complete circulation of cement, while others may not, Shew said, citing a 2009 report from the Department of Energy. He spoke in favor of overarching regulation.
“I see lots of areas for nonuniformity across the country,” Shew said.