North Carolina fracking rules offer little protection to wildlife – environmentalists say

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In response to proposed rules for oil and gas extraction in North Carolina, the Center for Biological Diversity yesterday filed comments that call for stricter regulations to protect people, the state’s waterways and imperilled species from proposed gas fracking. According to the comments, the draft rules do not provide sufficient protections for habitat and water resources and fail to ensure that the state will protect endangered species during gas operations.

“These rules allow fracking adjacent to extremely sensitive areas, including streams and wetlands,” said Jared Margolis, an attorney with the Center who focuses on the impacts of energy development on endangered species. “Fracking under these rules would pose an immediate threat to several North Carolina endangered species, including several species of freshwater mussels — animals like the Appalachian elktoe and Carolina heelsplitter that would be at risk from habitat fragmentation, reduced stream flows, and pollution caused by fracking.”

The proposed rules require a setback of gas wells and waste pits from surface waters of only 200 feet. Given that fractures have been documented to extend as much as 2,000 feet, this buffer would do little to ensure that the state’s waters are not polluted by toxic fracking fluids or gas. Without greater buffers, the draft rules pose a clear hazard to North Carolina’s waterways and the many species that depend on them, such as the eastern hellbender salamanders, which were petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection by the Center in 2010.

The rules would also allow for groundwater withdrawals to dangerous levels, which can affect the availability of drinking water and harm habitats and species by creating drought conditions. There is also no requirement in the rules for oil and gas operators to keep a record of the total amount of water being withdrawn from groundwater and surface-water sources.

“It is without question that fracking can cause harm to habitat and species, including those listed under the Endangered Species Act,” the comments state. “Larger setbacks, more reporting and limitations on groundwater and surface water withdrawals, and monitoring requirements for habitat are necessary to ensure adequate protections.”

Background

North Carolina is poised to allow dangerous fracking in several shale deposits, mostly within the Deep River Basin, which includes the Haw River area, Pee Dee River and B. Everett Jordan Lake. These areas are home to several federally protected species, and fracking poses a tremendous risk of harm to the habitats they depend on.

Fracking uses huge volumes of water mixed with sand and toxic chemicals, including methanol, benzene and trimenthylbenzene, to blast open rock formations and release oil and gas. Studies and reports from other states where fracking is common suggest links between fracking and a wide range of threats to wildlife. Hundreds of dangerous chemicals are used in fracking fluid, including many that are known to cause cancer and disrupt hormonal and reproductive development; fracking wastewater is often stored aboveground, creating the risk of contact with wildlife and surface-water contamination.

Fracking fluid threatens freshwater species and drinking water supplies because of the large quantity of water injected into wells and the toxic substances used. Massive quantities of water are withdrawn from creeks and lakes to inject into wells, drying up habitats and decreasing water supplies. Fracking fluids can contaminate both groundwater and surface water because the waste that returns to the surface is acidic and can contain heavy metals and radioactive particles.

A federal study released last year found that leaks of toxic fracking fluid caused a major fish kill in Kentucky’s Acorn Fork Creek. The spill, which was three miles long and involved fluid from four fracked wells, killed numerous species, including threatened blackside dace, a small, colorful fish that lives only in Appalachia.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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