Section 3: Water What-Ifs

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This next section of the draft report delves into potential infrastructure impacts. It begins with a look at the water supply — a LONG look.

This is a much-contested issue by those opposed to fracking, since it requires large amounts of water to complete the process: between three and five million gallons per well. In addition, aspects of the fracking process have been blamed for polluting drinking water in other gas-producing states.

The water used in natural gas production is pumped into the ground to aid in the fracturing of fissures already present in the gas-rich shale beds of Triassic basins.  It’s called fracking fluid, and is a slurry of sand, water, and chemicals. It is still uncertain how much of a negative impact fracking has on drinking water supplies, and further research regarding this is underway by the Environmental Protection Agency. The state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources pointed out that the first results of this study will be available this summer.

But for now, the things we do know. Sort of.

The shale bed formation of the Deep River Triassic Basin reaches from the edge of Union and Anson counties at the South Carolina line up to the southern portion of Granville. It lies beneath several major surface water drainage areas.

While the report also addresses the Dan River and Wadesboro sub-basins, I’m going to stick close to home and delve a little into the Deep River formation here.

Within this space the Deep River and Haw River merge to form the Cape Fear River. Jordan River, the regional water supply source for this area, lies just inside the western boundary of the Triassic basin in Chatham County.

In Durham’s sub-basin, the Eno, Little and Flat rivers flow into Falls Lake, the main water supply for the city of Raleigh.

In the Sandford sub-basin, there are 45 ground and surface water sources that supply public water systems, pulling from Little River tributaries and Cape Fear River supplies among others. Twenty-four of these sources tap waters within the Triassic Basin.

Now, while North Carolina has traditionally been considered a water-rich state, this is no longer always the case. Recent years have seen drought, and as of April 10, 2012, excepting 12 counties in the mountain region, all other counties are considered to be either abnormally dry or in moderate drought according to the NC Department of Water Resources.

Pollution is also an issue, especially in areas where the population is growing rapidly, such as the Triangle. Falls Lake has been listed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Impaired Water lists for the past two cycles of water quality assessment reports, in 2008 and 2010, and efforts to clean it up are ongoing.

There are also fewer public water wells within the Triassic Basins as compared to outside of it. The rock and sediment composition of North Carolina’s Triassic Basins are noted for having a limited ability to transmit water, meaning during “low-flow conditions,” or extended periods of time between rainfalls when surface water is low and must be supported by groundwater discharges; our amount of available water is very low indeed.

So we have limited groundwater supplies, and some compromised surface water supplies. And we want to drill into the shale beds that run beneath these water supplies when the jury is still out on how much damage fracking does to drinking water.

And the issue of regulating this water withdrawal is another one entirely.

Tune in tomorrow to see who would be in charge of this regulation.

The short answer? We aren’t sure!

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