Be advised: this particular blog post contains language some followers may find objectionable. Discretion is advised. (Now, doesn’t that make you want to click that much faster? Tantalizing isn’t it?)
This isn’t an article about the pros and cons of fracking in North Carolina. For the most part it’s a done deal; fracking will happen in NC. And, there are plenty of articles that focus, not only on the scientific methodology behind fracking, but any Google search will yield you lots of sites that debate the matter. What concerns me are issues that are mostly relevant to North Carolina and our state’s ability to deal effectively with the chaos that will ensue.
Here are my observations and concerns:
Will fracking be an economic boom for North Carolina?
Maybe and maybe not. The answer depends on whether North Carolinians are willing to pay the high price to make it happen. And, even if we’re willing to pay the price, there’s no guarantee we’ll get it right. You only need to look to Williston, North Dakota to give you a good idea of the answer. Not too many years ago, Williston was a sleepy little town not unlike most of rural NC. When fracking moved into the area, so many people came looking for work that local prices skyrocketed. Companies were forced to build “man camps” some of which were nothing more than makeshift tents just to house the workers. In fact, it was so bad that most man camps wouldn’t let you stay at the facilities on your days off.
The workers, on the other hand, were paid well. Even kids (18-20 year olds are kids in my book) in entry level jobs were making $18-23/hour. Depending on the job, most companies would let employees make all the overtime they could safely handle. It wasn’t unusual to see 18 and 20 year olds walking around with $1500-2000 dollars in pocket money every other week. But, what they did with that disposable cash turned out to be a headache. Illegal drugs were somewhat of a problem, but drinking and prostitution turned out to be a nightmare not only for regional law enforcement but for the companies, the court system, the residents and local businesses.
At this point, you may be thinking that NC can sidestep those issues because we can learn from the mistakes of other towns. Ah, wrong! Williston wasn’t the first town to frack in the United States. A host of other towns and communities came before North Dakota and most, if not all, of the towns had a hell-of-a time dealing with the influx of people, equipment and money. It is inevitable. People from all over the United States will flock to North Carolina because of the jobs. And, when those jobs are gone—and they will be at some point—the companies and people will leave and our local towns may be worse off than before the boom. You will not be able to keep bad elements out of the equation and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Secondly, if it was manageable, it would have already been managed and by now it wouldn’t be an issue. So, any politician or consultant who says they have a way around the issues and a fix for all the negatives is full of bullshit.
Is fracking safe?
Well…define safe. If you’re looking for a formula that insures no one will be killed in the fracking process—it isn’t going to happen. These are hard and very physical jobs and like all jobs of this type, people will make mistakes and die—regardless of safety policy and procedure. Yes, fracking is dangerous. Guys fall from rigs (which are 50 feet up in the air), men get crushed by equipment and sometimes accidents (including traffic accidents) happen. Even explosions and derailments happen from time to time. Companies, however, do what they need to do—on paper, anyway—to stay compliant with state and Federal laws. And, they have the best lawyers money can buy. But, on a state level I worry about the effective means NC will have to ensure local compliance. Companies, in general, will start out doing the right thing, but if the necessary checks and balances aren’t in place or if they’re not enforced, a greater percentage of people will inevitably get hurt. This part can be avoided, but I’m not sure North Carolina has the “attitude” other states have had concerning the need to enforce safety.
Now comes the water contamination issue.
Again, do a Google search and you’ll see where fracking has had water contamination issues in the past. Each incident has been specific to a local area or a formulary gone wrong; in a few cases companies had flowback issues. Regardless of how it happened, the point is it did happen. And, each time it happened spin doctors painted a pretty picture of ‘we fixed the issue’ and used lofty words to ease the minds of the people being hit by the contamination. Let’s also not forget the EPA progress report in Pennsylvania. See link: http://www2.epa.gov/hfstudy this link and this link. If you can’t trust the EPA, who can you trust?
And, finally, let’s look at who’s in charge.
I’d feel a lot better about hydraulic fracturing in North Carolina if the State had an actual leader that knew what he was doing. Welcome to the scene the Chairman of the Mining and Energy Commission, Jim Womack. A WestPoint graduate, followed by a military career, Jim served Lee County as a County Commissioner. He was appointed to Chair the Mining and Energy Commission by N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger—a Republican from Rockingham County. His bother is a congressman from Arkansas.
It’s well documented and no secret in Lee County that Womack used a blog site, leecountync.wordpress.com, to belittle local Democrats and public officials who didn’t follow the same ideology whirling around in Womack’s twisted mind. But, let’s be clear on a few issues. It doesn’t bother me that Womack is a Teabagger and it doesn’t bother me that he’s ultra conservative. Womack’s opinion that Obama is a Muslim, a Marxist, a Communist and in Womack’s own words Obama is, “as bad or worse than Castro” offends my cerebral senses, but to be honest I really don’t give a shit what this asshole thinks of Obama or any other public official, Republican or Democrat. See links to INDY WEEKLY; staff writer Billy Ball and others do a great job of pointing out Womack’s “political personality.”
It does bother me that Womack used the above referenced blog to post anonymously, using the surname of Madison, in reference to the Founding Father. It bothers me only because it’s mean spirited and often politically vulgar—posted by someone (as it turns out Womack) who hides behind his First Amendment Right cloak and dagger style. If you’re going to criticize a politician, fine. But, if you’re in the game just to “talk shit” then have the balls to pen your real name to the page. It’s not illegal for Womack to do this, but it does make him an asshole in my book. I would note here for the record that the blog leecountync.wordpress.com hasn’t been updated since March, 2012.
Womack is problematic and dangerous in the world of fracking because he strikes me as the kind of person who makes his mind up based on emotion and ideology, then tries to find facts to backup his position. Womack wants to drill, drill, drill and frack, frack, frack. Environmental studies don’t interest him. In fact, as a County Commissioner he was instrumental in striking environmental impact studies in Lee County. That, in my mind, makes him dangerous and not the kind of person I want making decisions that will affect and directly impact my family’s health and safety. Womack’s Machiavellian style may very well be problematic politically but his mindset on safety reads more like acceptable collateral damage.
The final question: at the end of the day, who wins?
The only sure winners in all of this is probably the companies coming to North Carolina to drill. Contrary to popular belief, these companies are NOT here to create jobs for the local economies—that happens to be a byproduct. They’re here to make a profit by any feasible means necessary. These multibillion dollar companies will spread a lot of money around, some towns will benefit and some will not. Some politicians will benefit some will not. It’s like the saying, “nobody goes to Vegas thinking they’re gonna lose money!” Every player’s got a plan and every town thinks they can control this fracking outcome. God help us, they’ve got a plan.
And, just like Vegas, the only sure way to win is to NOT play the game. Towns that have enacted no-fracking laws may very well be better off at the end of the day. Unfortunately, like most government endeavors, so many people will be saying so many different things with so much cherry picked data, average people will get tired of the bullshit and tune it out. Think I’m wrong? Ask a teacher how that North Carolina Education Lottery is going these days.
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