ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County could soon be entering the fracking business, and local officials are already considering the potential in terms of economic growth and revenue.
The state Senate’s 2014 budget names a small section of northwestern Richmond County as a portion of the Deep River Basin that could be subject to test drilling for shale gas. Lawmakers are still reviewing the budget, but the first piece of the fracking puzzle fell into place this week.
Gov. Pat McCrory signed the Energy Modernization Act into law Wednesday, reversing a 2012 moratorium that blocked hydraulic fracturing permits in North Carolina. Permits could be issued as early as spring 2015.
State Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond, said the county isn’t likely to play host to a large-scale fracking operation, but the answers to questions of local impact are buried beneath the county’s soil.
“They’re doing test wells,” Goodman said. “Test drilling for natural gas that might not even be there. The part in Richmond County is very small, but would benefit the county for people who lease their land. It would create jobs in Richmond County and boost the economy. But the chance is remote that this will happen here.”
Elizabeth Ouzts, state director of Environment N.C., has studied the effects of fracking in other parts of the country and is not convinced it is safe for the environment or for humans.
“What we have seen in other states where fracking is allowed is contaminated water,” she said. “Problems such as what to do with toxic wastewater when it comes up from the ground, and the presence of methane gas in drinking water are troubling. There have been more than 1,000 verified cases around the country — and this information comes from state regulatory officials investigating claims.”
County Manager Rick Sago said he suspects it will be a long time before county officials know whether fracking will have a long-term significance here.
“I haven’t had a chance to read it yet,” Sago said. “I can say that in areas where fracking is going on, it creates a lot of revenues for the companies and the landowners. The companies tend to bring in some of their best trained workers and hire more from the community they settle in, so there is the potential for some jobs.
“Federal energy policy seems to be driving the industry toward natural gas. It’s a clean energy source, and it’s not as if it is something new. It’s been around a long time now, and there is technology in place to keep operations safe and the environment clean.”
Reach reporter Melonie Flomer at 910-997-3111, ext. 15.