Forget about forced pooling and landowner protections, at least for the moment. Forget about water contamination and the plight of the Deep River and Dan River basin. And forget about the many contaminants contained in the chemicals used to frack shale and break it apart or that disclosing what those chemicals contain is a felony in North Carolina thanks to the Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly.
Over the last month, I talked with a geophysicist who says that one of the biggest problematic issues that could face fracking in North Carolina—and one of the least talked about—is the seismic activity produced from the wells as water, sand and chemicals are pumped deep into the earth to break apart the shale allowing the gas to release more easily.
The geophysicist who asked me not to use his name by saying “you can quote me but don’t use my name– I have enough aggravation as it is” points to two specific pieces of information: 1) that North Carolina has deep underground fault lines, mostly dormant for hundreds of years, and 2) a recent study in Ohio that points to 77 specific earthquakes that have been attributed to the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing of shale.
“Make no mistake about it, there are fault lines that run up and down North Carolina. You hear more about it in the mountains because of the media attention and the fact that people actually feel those quakes– but fault lines do exist along the I-95 corridor and in areas close enough to Lee, Chatham and Orange counties to make it potentially problematic to frack for natural gas even though I wouldn’t necessarily call those areas ‘hotspots’,” said the geophysicist in a telephone conversation.
A recent study that was made public points to 77 earthquakes that occurred along a fault line in Ohio. Many of those quakes were between 1.0 – 2.5 on the Richter scale and those were not necessarily felt by the general population in the area. But at least one quake measuring 3.0 was felt along a fault line in where fracking was being performed less than a half-mile away.
Why do earthquakes matter in fracking?
- Aside from the ecological impact of drilling in central North Carolina, the wastewater disposal process is a complicated and incomplete process overall. Ohio has some of the toughest regulations on the oil and natural gas companies who drill those areas. And still 77 earthquakes occurred along impact lines.
- Ohio mandates that companies to set up earthquake monitors before drilling within 3 miles of a known fault line – however North Carolina does not have such regulation.
According to the geophysicist, the problem is that North Carolina has fault lines that typically don’t move within a person’s natural lifespan. So there really is very little documentation as to what could happen when those underlying areas are disturbed.
I asked the geophysicist what would happen if North Carolina experienced an earthquake 3.0 or greater like the one in Ohio. “Well, potentially it could be a non-event with absolutely no damage. But on the other hand it could lead to a catastrophic event if it triggered an older more pronounced fault line to move. Especially if that quake moved up the line into Northern Virginia and Washington DC.”