Cary wrangles with fracking rules

aspecht@newsobserver.comMay 28, 2014 

  • Read the report

    To read the Cary Environmental Advisory Board’s shale gas development report, go to http://bit.ly/1k3KFJD.

— Town staff are reviewing a committee report that recommends a moratorium on shale gas exploration in Cary until the town can adopt rules and regulations for the practice .

The 110-page report was recently completed by Cary’s Shale Gas Subcommittee, a branch of the town’s Environmental Advisory Board that’s made up of four residents who have been studying the issue since 2012.

The report says hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, has the potential to contaminate Cary’s air, soil and groundwater if not properly regulated.

Fracking is currently allowed in 32 states, according to the report, but it is banned in North Carolina, although that could soon change. The state Senate recently passed a bill that would allow permits to be issued next July; the House is expected to consider the bill soon.

Western Cary and Jordan Lake, the town’s drinking-water source, are located in the Deep River Basin, where recoverable gas might exist.

Apart from the committee’s concerns that fracking could affect water quality, it also questions whether Jordan Lake has enough water to supply the practice.

“Two to four million gallons of water or more is required to hydraulically fracture a single shale gas well. While this water requirement is episodic … the cumulative requirements associated with a large number of wells could be significant,” the report says.

It continues: “The ability of Jordan Lake to supply additional water for shale gas development has not been assessed.”

The committee wrote that the town should examine the potential impact of shale gas development on Cary’s future water supply. In the report, the committee also recommended that Cary staff and council:

• Form a plan to control and monitor spills and illegal discharges from shale gas exploration;

• Identify which Cary residents don’t own subsurface mineral rights, and inform them about how to obtain it;

• Create a separate rezoning process for shale gas development cases, one where all property owners within 0.6 miles of a potential fracking site are notified;

• Make sure police have the authority to address odor, noise and light issues associated with shale gas exploration;

• Determine potential costs to the town arising from shale gas exploration activities. For example, Cary should find out how much it will cost the town to train staff to conduct safety inspections and perhaps handle shale gas wastewater at the local wastewater plant.

The Cary Town Council, which received the report at its May 22 meeting, directed town staff to study it and come up with their own recommendations before taking action.

Councilman Ed Yerha, the council’s liaison to the environmental board, said the report is so detailed that “it would be unwieldy to handle this item by item tonight.”

“You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more thoroughly researched document,” he said.

It’s unclear when the staff will make recommendations to the Town Council and when the council will adopt regulations.

For now, Cary leaders are encouraging residents to read the report.

“The issues you put forward in that recommendation list are thoughtful, they’re prioritized.” Councilwoman Lori Bush said. “I learned a wealth of information that I think every citizen should pay attention to.”

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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