There were a lot of questions Monday for an expert on fracking who came to Laurinburg to talk about the oil and gas mining process.
The noon session featured NC State professor and agricultural law attorney Ted Feitshans. Monday’s event was part of an ongoing series of educational seminars sponsored by the county Cooperative Extension Advisory Council.
Feitshans delivered a presentation on the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process and how it might affect North Carolina and then took questions from the crowd of more than 30 at the NC Cooperative Extension conference room.
Because the Cooperative Extension must maintain neutrality, Feitshans was careful to avoid advocating either for or against the politically contentious fracking practice.
Fracking in North Carolina could start as early as 2014.
The process involves sending a high pressure mix of fluids — the exact formulation of which is currently a trade secret — into the gas or oil bearing shale rock to displace the gas or oil, delivering it to the surface.
The fluid mix is currently made mostly of fresh water, meaning that there will be a great demand for water when and if fracking begins in the state.
“The most likely source is the Deep River, but in drought times even that will not likely (have enough water to spare),” Feitshan said.
Once the water is injected into the rock, most of it will stay in the shale where it displaced the gas and oil. Some will return to the surface to be recycled.
“There are limits to recycling, and once the water has been used up it will be moved,” Feitshans said.
The contaminated water is likely to be exported out of state to be disposed of in “deep injection wells” located in stable underground rock structures.
Concerns about groundwater contamination are likely to be addressed in research being funded by the state over the next two years. However, even in a “worst case scenario” it is unlikely that Scotland County will feel any of the environmental effects of fracking, according to Feitshans.
Feitshans called it an “exciting and scary time” for those following fracking developments in North Carolina because “the oil and gas industry in the state is being built from zero.”
There is also some concern about fracking near the major fault that runs through the area in North Carolina (Anson County north to Durham and Wake counties) where the lucrative hydrocarbon-bearing shale deposits have been found.
“Fracking into a fault is bad for the environment and bad for the company doing the fracking,” Feitshan said. For that reason, companies will be looking to avoid fracking into a fault.
In attendance was long time and retiring NC Senator Bill Purcell.
Purcell said following the seminar that he voted against the legislation that paves the way for fracking in North Carolina not because he is fundamentally opposed to fracking, but because he thinks more research should be done about what its effects could be in the state.
“We need more information,” Purcell said. “We should have studied it more extensively and made sure it was safe (before passing legislation).”
The state Senate bill that opened up the possibility for fracking in North Carolina left most of the research as well as the regulation to be done later by committees.
“I’m sure (those who voted for the bill) look at fracking as a way to create jobs, and I’m in favor of creating jobs, but we should do it carefully,” Purcell said.
According to Feitshans, it is going to take significant effort on the part of those involved in studying fracking in North Carolina to get the research done in the time allotted to them.
Purcell was also concerned about how shallow the oil and gas bearing shale deposits are in North Carolina, worrying that not enough research will be done to determine whether fracking would pose a threat to the state’s water supply.
The shallow nature of the deposits is also the reason that up to this point none of the major energy industry companies have shown an interest in setting up shop in the state.
According to Feitshans, only smaller companies have starting exploring their options in North Carolina because of what he called a relatively small number of “hydrocarbon-bearing shale deposits.”
It is being has been predicted that the state likely only has enough oil and gas to support 400 wells in its life. In Pennsylvania there were 1400 wells established just last year.
Those looking for a way to get involved in how fracking is regulated in North Carolina are encouraged by Feitshans to participate in the public comment process that will begin in the near future.
“I would suggest that people, no matter what side of the issue they are on, get involved in that (public comment) process,” Feitshans said.
Feitshans also strongly suggested that those who may be asked to lease or sell their land or rights to their land to energy companies first seek legal counsel.