By Eleanor Kern, CWFNC Duke Stanback Intern 2014
The passage of Senate Bill 786, the “Energy Modernization Act”, has landowners in almost 30 counties across NC asking what the next step is in protecting their water and health from being impacted by gas drilling, fracking and treatment. With fracking possibly coming to North Carolina as early as spring of 2015, residents’ first step to protect themselves can be in the form of “baseline” testing of their drinking water wells before any drilling begins. While doing this is not free for the homeowner, it is important to have proof, from certified well water tests, that their drinking water was free of compounds associated with gas development before fracking begins. Clean Water for North Carolina began the summer with a project to help North Carolina residents get good information about affordable and certified testing of their water resources before fracking starts in their region.
When deciding what substances would be most important for residents to test for, many alternatives were researched. Organizations and private laboratories that were found to provide testing services included Shale Test, a TX based non-profit, as well as some for-profit analytical laboratories: Pace Laboratories, Enco Laboratories, and SGS North America. They test for a wide range of chemicals, but were expensive. The cheapest alternative was found to be testing arranged with the residents’ own county health departments, since they offer testing “ inorganic”, “petroleum”, and “volatile organic compounds” (VOCs) , which give a good indication if the water has been polluted by hydraulic fracturing or other human practices.
The Environmental Health Departments of most NC counties provide the above three tests for between $100 and $200, but there was a wide range of values. The cheapest county price for the tests was found to be $50 for Northampton County and the most expensive price was for Alexander County with $560, representing a range of administrative costs added by the county. The complete table of well testing info for all NC counties can be viewed here. The completed table was sent to all of the counties’ Environmental Health Directors, hoping that it will shed some light on the differences in programs. A table including only the counties most likely to be directly affected by gas development can be viewed here. Commercial labs where you can purchase dissolved methane in water tests are included here.
Maps of all geological formations in North Carolina that may contain natural gas can be viewed so you can see if your county could be directly affected. We hope that you find this information useful and if you have any questions please e-mail email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On June 9, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against landowners in CTS Corp vs. Waldburger, a decision that will impair residents’ ability to seek justice and compensation and hold toxic polluters accountable.
The lawsuit, involving two dozen landowners near the former CTS of Asheville electroplating facility (now a nationally listed “Superfund” hazardous waste site), examined whether North Carolina’s “statutes of repose” law prohibits suing a company more than 10 years after the pollution activity stopped, regardless of when residents became aware of the contamination. Similar provisions exist in Connecticut, Kansas, and Oregon. The court ruled 7 to 2 to side with CTS, upholding the NC law. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who dissented along with Justice Breyer, wrote scathingly that “The court allows those responsible for environmental contamination … to escape liability for the devastating harm they cause, harm hidden from detection for more than 10 years.”
This decision has devastating implications for other communities near toxic sites, most notably the tens of thousands of Marines and their families stationed at Camp Lejeune, NC and exposed to TCE in drinking water in the 1950s to 1980s.
Springs on private property are fenced because of high levels of TCE from the CTS site in Buncombe County.
Many of these veterans are currently seeking compensation from the federal government in lawsuits, or health care promised in a 2012 law, now also in question. Seeking to get off the hook for these liabilities, the Obama Administration filed a brief in support of the polluter, a short-sighted action that will affect communities and thwart environmental justice for years to come.
Meanwhile, residents near the CTS site continue to live with high levels of trichloroethylene in nearby soil, water, and air. EPA temporarily relocated several families this past week after confirming hazardous levels of TCE in the air, which had almost certainly been present for years. They’ve also identified a shallow plume of groundwater contamination floating near the surface, and the community is pushing for fast-tracked removal of that shallow contamination even as they move quickly to test and remove the plume deeper below the site.
Join us today in front of the Hallifax Mall, as we express our outrage on the rushed passage of fracking bill S786, tax legislation, a terrible budget and many other environmental justice and health issues. We will be calling upon Governor McCrory to veto the fracking bill!
Natural gas is often touted as a solution to climate change, marketed as a “clean burning” “transition fuel” because it releases half the carbon dioxide of coal. But the effect of fracking on the atmosphere depends on methane, a greenhouse gas that is up to 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) when it is released unburned. Methane escapes during all phases of natural gas extraction, from the drilling sites, processing plants, to the pipelines and storage facilities. These releases are called “fugitive emissions”, as they are difficult to trace and often aren’t measured.
Studies have shown that these emissions are significantly higher with fracking than convention gas development, and scientists are working to determine exactly how much gas escapes fracking. This is especially important as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s newest report pushes natural gas as a potential solution to climate change if fugitive emissions are controlled. The trouble is, nobody knows the extent of fugitive emissions from fracking operations, despite numerous studies.
There is a large range in scientific estimates of fugitive emissions, due to differences in assumptions, methods, measurement techniques, industry practices, and regional variations. Methane leakage also depends on local geology, technology, practices companies use in capturing methane, and the condition of pipelines. Despite these variations, several important recent studies conclude that fugitive emissions are much higher than previously thought. A November 2013 study by Harvard scientists measured methane in the atmosphere, and found that levels above drill sites are 50% higher than EPA estimates. An April 2014 study from Perdue University found that drilling pads themselves emitted 100 to 1000 times the amount of methane estimated by the EPA, even before drilling starts!
High levels of fugitive emissions from fracking and gas development negate any benefits of “cleaner burning” natural gas, and make it potentially worse for the climate than burning coal. It is clear natural gas is not the answer to the problems of anthropogenic climate change. At the very least, this points to the urgent need for stronger state and federal laws, and regulations for monitoring, evaluating, and reducing the fugitive methane emissions from the production and distribution of natural gas. Island and coast communities are already feeling the effects of global climate change. Future impacts will be far-ranging, and disproportionately affect already vulnerable populations of Indigenous and poor communities and people of color. We shouldn’t be duped by the natural gas industry calling itself “environmentally friendly”, when it takes investment and policy attention away from actual solutions like efficiency programs and renewables.