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Fracking presentation draws a crowd in Jackson

fr jaxfrackingA question-and-answer session concerning fracking drew a full crowd to a recent Jackson County Planning Board meeting. Western Carolina University Geosciences and Natural Resources Professor Cheryl Waters-Tormey was invited to lay out the basic process of hydraulic fracturing and the chances of natural gas exploration in Western North Carolina in the wake of the state legislature green-lighting the practice. 


The geologist, stressing she was not an expert on fracking, explained that hydraulic fracturing involves pumping a mixture of water and chemicals into the ground in an effort to obtain natural gas. She said the chances of viable amounts of natural gas being found in Western North Carolina are “very, very small,” “economically don’t make sense,” and that any possibility of fracking activity is “way, way, way down the road.”

“Hopefully, that’s kind of a baseline, so everybody can just take a deep breath,” Waters-Tormey told the crowd. 

Although, the WCU geologist said that chances were slim that hydraulic fracturing would come to the western portion of the state, she also addressed some areas of concern surrounding the exploration method being embraced around the country. She painted a picture of an imprecise practice with the potential for uncertain consequences — “a shot in the dark.”

“This is an experiment going on as we speak and there’s just not enough data,” Waters-Tormey said. “And that’s what’s kind of scary, because it’s so open ended.”

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The planning board chairman noted that the county had no authority to deal with fracking in any way, but members did have multiple lines of questioning for the professor. 

They wanted to know about the possibility for groundwater contamination: “You’re experimenting with your groundwater and your property. We actually as hydrologists and geologists don’t know about fracture flow.”

And they wanted to know if such contamination could be cleaned up: “In my professional opinion, they may say they’ll fix it but they don’t know how to.”

One member brought in a list of questions given to her by friends. They wanted to know about the potential for earthquakes (“It’s my understanding that that has happened where the gas or oil reservoir is huge.”) and if chemicals used in the process cause cancer (“So, that’s for sure. The uncertainty is which chemicals are causing this.”) and if fracking on nearby property could endanger the wells in the surrounding area (“You would just watch your water and if it gets polluted you need to have a plan B.”).

But, Water-Tormey stressed repeatedly, Western North Carolina is not a likely candidate for a fracking boom. The geology’s all wrong. The rocks have been cooked way too long.

“This would be the last place I’d come,” the professor said. 

But, the state geologist’s office will soon be coming to western counties. They’re doing a survey of a variety of areas in the state to determine where there are likely to be worthwhile deposits of natural gas. 

“They’re just making sure that no stone’s left unturned,” Waters-Tormey said. “This is a stone that a lot of geologists would just walk by.”

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