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Will NC and Chatham Go Hog Wild Over Fracking?

March 31, 2011

It was a rare barbecue event celebrated last Saturday near the Lee/Chatham county line, as reported by WRAL News. In fact, you could say it was a “Gas.” That’s gas as in natural gas, with methane as its principal component. It was not wood chips or charcoal, but gas mined from 1800 feet below the surface of the Piedmont’s Triassic Basin that cooked the pig for this celebration. It was the kind of “it’s-never-been-done-here-before” event that leaves geologists and CEO’s of gas drilling companies down right giddy. It’s the kind of giddiness that can spread like a virus to infect all kinds of folks whose appetites go way beyond pulled pork.

In a state currently with few energy sources of its own, but an appetite for relatively cheap alternatives to coal and nuclear, a sea of gas beneath its ancient shale formations is enough to make whole populations salivate and drool. Not the least of these is politicians looking for a quick fix to the problems caused by a growing population of energy over eaters. At first glance on the surface, this under the surface gold mine of methane can have everyone kicking up their heels and dancing in the aisles. It’s the kind of euphoria that can tempt you to think that just maybe one day in NC we’ll actually breed pigs that fly.

CAUTION! Pigs will never fly… and extracting natural gas from the bowels of the earth through the process of hydraulic fracturing is akin to opening Pandora’s Box. In Greek mythology, Pandora was given a box-jar which she was not to open under any circumstance. Impelled by her natural curiosity, Pandora opened the box-jar, and all the evil contained escaped and spread over the earth. Apparently no warning label was required in mythology, and today where “fracking” is allowed the same absence of warning holds true. Also absent are regulations and enforcement resources to protect people, animals and the environment from the ravages that so often accompany the invasive and traumatic operation.

Here in NC, we have wisely kept the lid on the box through laws that prohibit the kind of drilling that “fracking” entails. Such wisdom, however, is being tested as gas drilling companies tempt area landowners with predatory deeds to mineral rights, believing that friendly politicians will soon deep six the old laws and open the flood gates for the great NC gas rush just ahead. It’s a gamble they expect to win, and to win BIG.

As states, communities and citizens across the nation have learned over the past decade or so, there is a huge price to pay when allowing and inviting gas companies to plant wells that spring up and multiply like poison mushrooms. The question before us is whether the people of NC, of Chatham, Lee, Durham and other counties holding natural gas will have the wisdom to learn from others’ mistakes, or whether we will succumb to the folly of buying a pig in a poke. That is the path that some state legislators and local land owners are already pursuing.

If NC law makers and citizens of Chatham and similar gas laden counties continue to celebrate the methane beneath our shale without fully understanding and believing the horrible downside of fracking, we will be the poorer, not the richer for the choice. For this reason, CCEC along with other organizations and citizens concerned with the health and environmental issues raised by fracking, urge our neighbors and leaders to learn all we can about the dangers that accompany fracking. A good place to begin is by watching a video presented by Clean Water for North Carolina:

In the weeks and months ahead, we will continue to provide information, events and opportunities to learn about fracking and advocate for caution among legislators and landowners. Stay tuned and get involved. This is not an issue half a world away, but one as near as the land upon which we walk, the air we breathe and the ground and surface waters that give us life. Before NC goes hog wild over fracking, we need to heed the warning: ‘caveat emptor’ (buyer beware). We now know that NC natural gas can cook a pig. We need to realize it can also cook our goose.

~ Gary Simpson

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