Rockingham Residents Express Concerns Over Use of Dan River Water For Fracking

Rockingham Residents Express Concerns Over Use of Dan River Water For Fracking

7:00am Aug 12, 2014
Rockingham County residents listen to a legal expert about the importance of finding out who owns the mineral rights on a piece of land before a gas lease is signed. Agricultural agencies in the area held an education meeting about fracking in Reidsville on Monday, August 11, 2014
Keri Brown

Nearly 150 people in Rockingham County gathered Monday night at the County Cooperative Extension Office in Reidsville to learn the facts about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Rockingham is one of 14 to 20 counties in the state that could be impacted by the gas mining process. Gas and oil companies use fracking to extract methane gas from shale formations. They use a mixture of water, sand and chemicals to break the rock and collect pockets of gas.

Harry Welker Jr. and Debbie Commer attended the education meeting. Both of them own land near the Dan River Basin. They say they overcame a coal ash spill in early February, but now they’re concerned about another possible threat to the river.

“My major concern is groundwater pollution and also some of the chemicals that may or may not be released by the process,” says Welker.  Commer agrees with Welker. “I'm concerned about our drinking water and air quality. We just feel like the legislation has pushed through without the research or input from the public. We are very concerned, very concerned,” she says.

State officials say water from the Dan River will likely be used for fracking. That water is expected to be recycled by oil and gas companies for reuse in gas mining process.

During the meeting, residents also learned about test wells that have been constructed in Lee County and why it’s important to find out who owns the mineral rights on your property before signing a lease.

The North Carolina Legislature legalized fracking in 2012, but the law prohibits issuing permits to energy companies until regulations are finalized. The North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission is working on a set of rules. Jim Womack is a member of the Commission and a Lee County Commissioner. He says the state is creating regulations that will address most concerns.

“We are light years ahead from where other states were in established rule making. We have had the benefit of leaning from their mistakes and observing what has worked for them in best practices. We also have a more predictable landscape now because we have an established set of rules, so when the industry looks at N.C. they will know what the drilling rules are and they won’t have to guess what they will be two years from now,” says Womack.

The state is expected to begin issuing drilling permits next spring. In the meantime, the state Mining and Energy Commission will host four meetings in the coming weeks to collect public comment about the fracking rules.  The deadline to submit comments online to the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources is September 30.

Follow Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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