New Report Sets the Record Straight on Safe Fracking in North Carolina

With Energy Modernization Act recently signed into law, North Carolinians will soon be reaping the economic and environmental benefits of natural gas as the state moves forward with shale development.  Therefore, unsurprisingly, anti-fracking groups like Frack Free NC, Environment North Carolina and several others have been working overtime in their attempts to incite fear about hydraulic fracturing throughout the state.  No doubt they will flood this week’s hearings scheduled throughout the state with misinformation.

Fortunately, a new report by the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, North Carolina intelligently debunks the myths being perpetrated by anti-fracking activists, providing North Carolinians with access to the facts about the safety of hydraulic fracturing.

Let’s have a look:


Anti-fracking activists have been promoting Josh Fox’s Gasland films like crazy in North Carolina, so it’s important for folks to understand the dishonesty behind these documentaries.

The John Locke report reminds readers that both of the iconic scenes – when a man lights his tap water on fire in the original Gasland and when a man lights the end of a garden hose on fire in Gasland II – are works of deception.

As EID has noted many times, the landowner featured in the first Gasland film had drilled his water well through four separate coal seams, full of flammable methane.  As the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission explained after looking into the case, “There are no indications of oil & gas related impacts to water well.”  In Gasland II, the district court actually determined that the landowner conspired with a local consultant to “intentionally attach a garden hose to a gas vent – not to a water line – and then light and burn the gas from the end of the nozzle of the hose.” This was done to create a “deceptive video” with the intention of getting EPA involved.

As the John Locke report rightly points out, Josh Fox was aware that state regulators in both cases had found that the methane was not due to fracking but still characterized it as such in the films.  From the John Locke report:

“More damning is that “Gasland director Josh Fox publicly admitted knowledge of these findings and chose to leave them out because he considered them ‘not relevant.’ He then furthermore stated that ‘There were reports in 1936 where people say they could light their water on fire in New York state.” (p. 5)

Protection of the Environment

As always the best question regarding shale development is not “are there risks?” but rather, “can those risks be managed?”  In North Carolina, as throughout the country, the answer to that question is: yes! As the John Locke report explains, the safety of hydraulic fracturing has been soundly confirmed by North Carolina regulators, whose job is to protect the environment and public health:

“Safety of hydraulic fracturing in North Carolina was confirmed by a comprehensive study conducted by the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Department of Commerce under then-Gov. Bev Perdue.  Published in April 2012, the study concluded that ‘information available to date suggests that production of natural gas by means of hydraulic fracturing can be done safely as long as the right protections are in place.’”  (p. 9)

Chemical Disclosure

Contrary to anti-fracking activists’ claims, producers do disclose what chemicals they use on an online inventory called FracFocus, which has been praised by the Obama Administration as a tool that “provides transparency to the American people.”  In North Carolina, disclosure will likely be a requirement.  From the John Locke report:

“Draft rules by the [North Carolina Mining and Energy Committee] MEC would require that the chemicals used in gas and oil exploration and recovery in North Carolina be disclosed to the Chemical Disclosure Registry on the FracFocus website, as is done in many other states. Managed by the Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, FracFocus seeks to provide factual information to the public about groundwater protection and also chemicals used in area wells and in hydraulic fracturing operations in general. Colorado, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas, North Dakota, Montana, Mississippi, Utah, Ohio, and Pennsylvania use FracFocus as a means of official state chemical disclosure.” (p. 10)

Of course, about 99.9 percent of fracking fluid is made up of water and sand.  Only a fraction is made up of chemicals, most of which can be found under any kitchen sink.  The appendix of the John Lock report provides a comprehensive list of the all the chemicals that could be used during the fracking process.  It also provides a thorough list of what household products each of those chemicals is used in. These include: laundry detergent, glue, fabric softeners, liquid dish soap, cosmetics – and the list goes on.

Public Health

While anti-fracking activists travel the state throwing around terms like “benzene” and “cancer” to scare people, North Carolina officials have addressed the public health issue and found that there is no cause for concern.  From the John Locke report:

“One of the dark-money ads airing in North Carolina asserts that hydraulic fracturing ‘uses toxic chemicals including benzene, silica, formaldehyde — chemicals that can cause cancer and birth defects.’  According to MEC Chairman Jim Womack, however, benzene ‘is an EPA banned substance at the federal and state levels — its use for hydraulic fracturing anywhere in the country is illegal’; concentrations of formaldehyde ‘are so small that the fluid is diluted well below toxicity levels considered harmful’; and furthermore, silica ‘is sand … [i]t is no more harmful in this industry than it is to quarry workers.’ By ‘simple precautionary measures silica can be safely and effectively managed during the well stimulation process.’” (p. 11)

That’s very much in line with what other state regulatory agencies have found: in Texas, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Colorado, regulators installed air quality monitors near well pads and found no credible threat to public health.  In fact the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently released its latest emissions inventory and found a dramatic reduction in air pollution thanks to hydraulic fracturing and natural gas, which represent “between $14 billion and $37 billion of annual public health benefit,” according to the DEP.

Water Use

In some of the most prolific oil and gas producing states – such as Pennsylvania, Texas, and Colorado – shale development accounts for less than one percent of each state’s total water use.   Shale development in North Carolina would be no different.  As the John Locke report puts it,

“In 2014, the American Journal of Engineering and Applied Sciences published estimates on water consumption by hydraulic fracturing in North Carolina. Researchers from North Carolina A&T State University found that, even by using worst-case assumptions (highest-volume water use and lowest lifespan per well), water demand would be ‘significantly lower’ than water availability. They concluded: ‘It is very clear that the surface water supplies of North Carolina will not be affected at all by the fracking activities.’” (p. 12)

Methane emissions

John Locke report also addresses methane emissions for North Carolina explaining,

“The concern with methane in the atmosphere is its role as a greenhouse gas, one estimated to be many times over more potent than carbon dioxide. The Howarth study assumed 100 percent of methane is vented into the atmosphere, but in actual practice over 93 percent of the gas is recovered and sold, and the remainder is either flared (which converts it to carbon dioxide) or vented. Beginning in 2015, flaring and venting are prohibited by the EPA, while recapturing emissions at the completion of the well, like recapturing flowback, has already become the industry standard.” (p. 13)

The John Locke study is only the latest to debunk the Howarth/Ingraffea study, which claims that methane emissions from natural gas production cancel out the environmental benefits of natural gas.  Not only has Howarth and Ingraffea’s research been thoroughly discredited by a number of scientists, numerous studies have found exactly the opposite to be true.

EPA recently published Greenhouse Gas Inventory, which found a dramatic decrease in methane emissions from field production.  EPA attributed that to “voluntary reductions” by oil and gas producers. Further, the University of Texas and the Environment Defense Fund completed a study last year, which found very low methane leakage rates – in line with what EPA found – showing that natural gas maintains its environmental benefits.

In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest assessment concluded that “the rapid deployment of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies” is “an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.”  The EPA, the International Energy Agency (IEA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) came to similar conclusions about the environmental benefits of natural gas.

Jobs and Economic Growth for North Carolina

The John Locke report rightly states,

“Exploration for and recovery of natural gas in North Carolina holds promise of job creation, wealth creation, revenue generation, and a new domestic industry in the state.” (p. 14)

Manufacturing is enormously important to North Carolina’s economy: that was especially apparent when President Obama visited and touted Vacon, which he called “manufacturing hub” for the United States.

Of course, it’s largely thanks to cheap, abundant natural gas that these manufacturing jobs are coming back to the United States.  Chemical manufacturers, who use natural gas as a feedstock for their projects, are seeing $100 billion in investments, which translate into thousands of jobs.  According to a study by IHS CERA, the full shale value chain will support 3.3 million jobs by 2020 and add nearly half a trillion dollars to the U.S. gross domestic product.

As this new report makes clear, shale development in North Carolina will be environmentally sound.  It will also create hundreds of good paying jobs, help North Carolina’s “manufacturing hub” grow, and strengthen the state’s economy.  That’s great news for everyone who calls North Carolina home.

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