Social Justice and the "Fracking" Issue

Since 2012 the Social Justice Ministry (SJM) has given a significant portion of its budget to resist prospective hydrofracturing or “fracking” shale layers deep in the North Carolina earth to extract natural gas.   Fracking is a drilling technique that inserts a vertical pipe a mile deep, bends the pipe horizontally and thrusts it for additional miles laterally into subterranean shale deposits that house pockets of natural gas.  Fluids consisting of water, sand, and undisclosed chemicals are then pumped through the pipe at extreme pressure and heat levels that fracture the shale and enable extraction of the valued gas. The pipe is encased in cement housed within a steel sheath that purportedly protects against the liquid mix leaking into unintended areas.

As the member of the SJM with the lead responsibility for supporting policies and organizations that advocate for the integrity of God’s creation, I oppose fracking .  I believe fracking poses numerous problems or at least raises serious questions related to environmental and human health, economic stability, community amity, and atmospheric balance.

Water consumption and disposal are two of the most pressing questions surrounding fracking.  While it varies from place to place, one well can use up to 8 million gallons (one study indicates 13 million gallons) of fresh water.  Frackers must compete with other users of fresh water--farmers, municipalities, and others.  As global warming increases the value of water, that degree of usage for one industry is disturbing.

Used water brings disposal issues.  It is not potable--it contains several chemicals dangerous to human health, although the mix used in fracking is a trade secret.  Furthermore, fracking is exempted from adherence to the Clean Water Act.  Water can be disposed of by injecting it into wells deep in the earth, treating it for limited reuse, or storing it in outdoor lagoons.  None of these, it seems to me, provides a satisfactory end.

A related water question is the polluting of aquifers and other subterranean water supplies.  Ample evidence from Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Texas and other places indicates severe threats to subterranean water sources in areas where fracking has taken place.  Energy companies refute that evidence, but too many examples of tap water igniting and animals dying from drinking water in areas where fracking exists call for extreme caution.  It is uncertain if the pollutants come from pipe failures or careless spills of toxic materials brought back to the surface.  In any case, fresh water sources vital to organic health and human economy face a grave threat in fracking areas.

Fracking has deleterious eonomic and social implications as well.  Most fracking is conducted in rural areas where farmers often sell their land or their mineral rights to energy companies.  Individual farmers who choose to sell stand to make millions of dollars. Conflict arises when some owners for their own reasons--sense of responsibility to the land is often cited--refuse to sell or participate with their neighbors in a drilling operation or “pool” in which costs and profits are shared.  Those who refuse to participate can be legally compelled (“forced pooling”) to join.  Forced pooling raises serious questions about the extent of individual private property ownership rights.  A related issue is the power of energy companies to construct derricks and pumps on property where someone other than the surface right owner holds the mineral rights.    It’s easy to understand how neighbor can become pitted against neighbor in such a situation.  Our friend, Mac Hulslander, says it is one of the most disturbing results of fracking in his home area of Dimock, PA where fracking is widespread.

In places where ground water or aquifers have become polluted with fracking fluids, property values have plummeted because water has become unfit for human consumption or use.  Farmers and other land owners find it nearly impossible to sell their land where water is no longer available except in containers brought in from other places.

Fracking usually creates a gold rush mentality with gold camp results in once tranquil places.  Energy corporations and politicians promise significant increases in jobs--a powerful lure in a sluggish economy--to gain public support.  Unfortunately, many of the jobs go to outsiders skilled in the tasks of fracking and the profits from the operations go to wherever companies have their headquarters--almost never in North Carolina.  Fracking replays the history of colonial economies in America across several economic frontiers--furs, hard rock mining, lumber, even grass.  When the resource plays out a wasteland remains.

One predictable problem that accompanies fracking is noise pollution.  Heavy industry in the country side requires transporting of pipe, derrick materials, and the tons of water required.  All of that must be carried in by large trucks with concomitant noise fthat destroys the tranquility of rural areas.

Finally, when the gas is burned by the consumers it will contribute to atmospheric pollution and global warming, possibly the most difficult public policy question we face.

With all of these things in mind, I can only conclude that fracking is among the worst things we can do to North Carolina.

 John Little