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THE FRACKING DEBATE
Former industry worker: Economic boost real, and so are the risks




Ray Jackson knew North Carolina’s future was headed toward fracking for natural gas so he decided to join the industry in North Dakota.

Jackson, a Wilson business owner of 30 years, was ready for a change and his interest grew as he saw the industry booming in North Dakota, which now boasts having the lowest unemployment rate in the nation.

“Thinking that North Carolina was going to do it in the future, I wanted to get the information about it and see what took place,” Jackson said. “It’s been going on but they’ve got it down to a science now how to do it.”

He moved in March 2012 and worked in northern North Dakota for six months before returning to Wilson. He then decided to return in August 2013 and worked through February, sometimes during bitter cold temperatures. The money was good, he was offered housing at no cost and he got first-hand experience as a trucker hauling fracking wastewater to disposal sites.

In North Dakota, fracking is used to release oil from underground rock formations and the industry continues to expand with crude oil output set to reach over one million barrels per day in 2014.

“That’s why they’re reaping the benefits and that’s why their unemployment is 1 percent,” he said. “It’s very low.”

In May, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported North Dakota’s unemployment rate at 2.6 percent, the lowest in the nation.

“When I went from March ‘til October and when I went back the following year in August, the city I was living in, Watford City, it tripled in population, from 4,000 people to 18,000 people — restaurants, shopping centers, five new hotels — it’s just a boom that’s going on,” he said. “There are so many people going up there.”

Jackson estimates that tens of thousands of jobs are available but even more will be needed as people move to North Dakota and increase the need for housing and a host of other commodities.

“It’s just boomed,” he said. “It’s just growth, growth, growth. It’s amazing to see.”

Jackson’s job, which required hazmat training and a commercial driver’s license, involved hauling fracking wastewater to disposal sites where frack water is injected deep into the ground.

“I’d take water to the disposal site to be drilled back into the earth one mile deep,” he said.

He worked anywhere from 70 to 85 hours a week, was paid $21 an hour and racked up time and a half in overtime pay.

“It’s a great opportunity for anyone who wants a job,” Jackson said. “I brought in over $50,000 in six months.”

With North Dakota being one of the nation’s largest oil-producing states, fracking involves capturing crude oil.

“The process, you go two miles deep, straight down, and two miles horizontal and when you do the fracking, you shoot all that water down, all the chemicals and stuff they put in it, and that brings the oil back to the surface,” Jackson said.

If natural gas is released, it is burned off into gas flares at anywhere from 30 to 50 feet above the well head, Jackson said.

“It sounds like a jet engine taking off,” he said.

LEGISLATION SIGNED

North Carolina lawmakers approved legislation this year authorizing fracking to begin as early as next spring, after rules on gas drilling are adopted. Fracking for natural gas involves horizontal drilling into shale rock, primarily located in shale basins in central North Carolina, where geologists believe natural gas reservoirs are contained.

Titled the “Energy Modernization Act,” the measure passed 33-12 in the Senate and 64-50 in the House.

Proponents believe the industry will boost the state’s economy while opponents are concerned about the environmental impacts, even seeking to delay the bill.

Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill, pledging that the new law has the necessary protections for the environment.

McCrory said in a statement that the law will spur economic development and create jobs throughout all sectors of the economy, especially in rural areas.

“The expansion of our energy sector will not come at a cost to our precious environment,” he said.

Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Environment North Carolina, have criticized the law.

“There are more than 1,000 documented cases of contaminated water from fracking across the country,” said Elizabeth Ouzts, state director of Environment North Carolina. “By rushing to frack, Gov. McCrory and legislative leaders are putting North Carolina’s rivers and the drinking water for millions in jeopardy.”

SEEING BOTH SIDES

Jackson has seen value of both sides as he’s watched the economy in North Dakota surge and environmental issues become a reality from reported oil and frack water spills. He’s also aware of concerns that fracking could be leading to earthquakes, in such places as Oklahoma. A new study, reported in the journal, “Science,” Thursday, has led researchers to conclude that high-pressure water that’s injected deep into the ground to release oil and gas from rock formations is likely the cause of earthquakes in recent years.

Jackson experienced his own water spill when the water line to his tanker burst. He lost 10 gallons of water but quickly moved to clean the spill to avoid ground water contamination or other environmental problems.

“It tastes like salt water and if it gets on your clothes, they turn white,” he said. “I did my best to prevent spills. It can happen.

“Mine hit the surface and I got my shovel out and cleaned up the spill. They don’t want one drop to spill on the ground. They just don’t want it to get into the drinking water.”

Jackson’s accident didn’t create a concern because it was considered a small amount and he was able to clean the area to company and environmental standards.

Anytime high-pressure water is used, Jackson believes accidents can happen no matter how much caution is used.

“My line on my truck blew because of pressure,” he said. “Sometimes, the well blows. I just want people to know there are going to be spills anytime you’re dealing with high-pressure water.”

He’s also concerned about how North Carolina regulations will be formed for the industry and wonders where fracking water will be disposed of in the state.

“I’m positive for it and hope we’re successful about it,” Jackson said. “We’ve got to be concerned about the environment. What’s going to be the long-term effect of us putting that water back into the earth?

“I’m for the fracking if it’s safe because it’s going to bring a lot of jobs, it’s going to bring a lot of tax revenue for the state.”

Jackson doesn’t plan to return to North Dakota, but he may work in the business again in North Carolina.

“I probably will check into it,” he said.

rochelle@wilsontimes.com | 265-7818

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View Comments:Show/Hide(13 comments)
@ need mines, To said said...

I assume the last statement in your comment could be partially referencing my comment, so here's plenty to chew on, straight from other earlier comments on previous related stories:
"Hello again, regarding my earlier request for links/citations, I have already found what I needed. For those who are interested, Senator Newton is indeed one of the primary sponsors of Energy Modernization Act ( http://www.southernstudies.org/2014/05/nc-fracking-bill-orders-prison-time-for-disclosing.html ). What appears to be the actual amended bill can be found here, with Section 7.(a) highlighting the confidentiality of 'trade secrets' that prevents the public from knowing exactly what gets pumped into the ground and imposing the threat of a class I felony for anyone disclosing the information. The text of interest can be found beginning on pp.10-12 ( http://www.ncleg.net/documentsites/committees/BCCI-6576/2013-2014/8%20-%20May%208,%202014/Draft%20Proposed%20Legislation%20(2013-RIxz-23v15).pdf ). Apparently this bill was set to be voted upon at the beginning of the month, but was delayed due to concerns from private industry that certain rules/regulations went too far ( http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/05/02/2866836/fracking-giant-halliburton-nixes.html ). Another article of interest covering some of the other proposed changes can be found here ( http://www.northcarolinahealthnews.org/2014/05/16/proposed-bill-would-provide-secret-fracking-data-to-first-responders/ ). All of this centers around a speculative area called the Triassic Rift Basin that is found primarily just west of Raleigh and stretches southwest ( http://raleighpublicrecord.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/files/2012/04/exposed-north-carolina-triassic-rift-basin.jpg )."
Also, there's this as well:
"It's ironic that the bill's primary sponsors are from areas where the supposed gas isn't located. Doesn't that seem a little strange to anyone else? Also, if anyone else is interested in hearing the debate associated with the bill leading up to its acceptance yesterday, WRAL has posted a video of the session here ( http://www.wral.com/news/state/nccapitol/video/13664083/#/vid13664083 ). It's interesting to see Senator Newton's rebuttal to another senator's specific concerns about not disclosing the fracking chemicals/composition to the public (exchange occurs from 46:00-50:00 in the video). I also found it interesting that for all the debate about 'energy independence,' bandied about by its supporters, WRAL cites a 2012 U.S. Geological Survey "that natural gas reserves in North Carolina would meet the state's demands for less than six years before being exhausted" (http://www.wral.com/senate-hits-gusher-with-quick-approval-of-drilling-bill/13664270/). If this is the case, is 'energy independence' realistic and wouldn't the jobs generated from multi-national corporations extracting the energy be temporary in nature once the gas is fully extracted? Is this really a panacea for the state, as its supporters would have you believe?"

Tuesday, July 08, 2014 at 4:24 PM
said...

So many people with so many crass words about people they don't even know. Who is worse, the law makers and politicians you don't know personally yet take them apart at every turn, or you doing it? To say someone doesn't care about a human life is going pretty far over the edge. I'm willing to bet not one person in elected offices is wanting to cause injury to anyone in NC by purposely passing something. When you folks start your comments with personal attacks, the rest of your message is lost. I hope you realize that. And if you are going to quote a fact, back it up with the source/data of where you are quoting.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014 at 11:14 AM
To Gramma said...

Show me where the "unfortunate" have had to "deal with earth quakes." Oh yeah thats right, you can't. My family is from these areas that people keep citing earthquakes are occurring. They are not the "fortunate" people you speak of and they certainly have not had to deal with ANY earthquakes. Just so you know one of the largest faults in the US runs through Missouri and there are minor earthquakes along that fault all the time. It just so happens that the anti frackers are finding something to blame fracking on. Only thing about that is that these same minor earthquakes have been happening in Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma for as long as people have lived there. Hmmmm.

Sunday, July 06, 2014 at 8:42 PM
@ need mines said...

Nice try riling up people with that persona, as if painting the 'gimmes' of the Democratic Party in support of this legislation. I doubt that's the case though. The fact is that there's roughly six years worth of gas that's estimated in our state, and if business/profits have anything to do with it, it will ultimately go where they can make the highest profit (as in overseas, if necessary). I think it's funny when legislators sold this as energy independence for North Carolina, as if this were the cure to lower our gas prices. Face it, we will never see gas below $3 again, because consumers have grown used to the price and companies to the windfall profits. Meanwhile, we will be putting our local environment/water at risk and could be dealing with the aftermath long after the fuel supply has been exhausted and the companies vacated. And let's not even mention that the special interests succeeded in amending the legislation to not publicly disclose what goes into the ground, as well as administering a felony to anyone disclosing the chemical ingredients/compositions. As it stands, the state geologist is the only person with access to the information, and even with this, it's unclear in what capacity he holds the information (whether as simple custodian who views the documents only in case of emergency or as a more active participant aware of the chemicals/compositions from the start). It appears there will no safeguard from government when it comes to this, or if there is, will be largely drafted by the businesses doing the fracking. It's poor, shortsighted policy all the way around, and the bill's primary sponsors--including our own E.S. 'Buck' Newton--aren't even in areas where the drilling would occur. Does that make sense to anyone?

Sunday, July 06, 2014 at 1:40 PM
to Hmmm! said...

When McCrory is addressing people about "stupid hats" he's talking directly to you liberals.

Sunday, July 06, 2014 at 1:04 PM
Watchful said...

We need our energy independence. Anything disturbs the water table - drilling for p, digging sewers etc. and to say democrats care about people. I am one but ashamed of Democratic Party now. Giving our country away to illegals that we pay for and having the government in charge of healthcare is not caring about the people.

Sunday, July 06, 2014 at 8:08 AM need mines said...

Let them frack all they want somebody got to pay for mine. Shoot, we need food,phones, and such.

Saturday, July 05, 2014 at 8:39 PM To Hmmmm! said...

Dependence on Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations who all use that money to infiltrate our country with those who desire to destroy us is a GRAT thing to leave to our kids and grandchildren. On the other hand energy denendence and the ability to tell those whose main goal in life is to destroy our kids and grandchildren to go kick rocks might be a better thing. But then again you are probably one who believes "tolerance" is all we need to appease those crazy people and make them love us. How's that worked for the last 6 years by the wya.

Saturday, July 05, 2014 at 6:29 PM gramma said...

Just pad the wallets of the more fortunate. To heck with the folks who have to deal with earthquakes and contaminated water.

Saturday, July 05, 2014 at 1:28 PM Comment said...

The one labeled "Fracking" is just one of the stupid hats McCrory has in his closet. He puts on a different one each day. One day its the "lets stick it to public education" stupid hat, the next day its the "lets disenfranchise some more voters" stupid hat. The man has a closet full.

Saturday, July 05, 2014 at 12:25 PM Hmmm! said...

If you think McCrory, Berger, Martin or Newton care anything about the dangers (i.e. public health risks, earthquakes) of fracking, you are delusional. All that crowd cares about is making money for their bid donors. Republicans care about money, Democrats care about people. Its that simple. Republicans have turned the state over to robber barons who will strip NC of all they can while their buddies in Raleigh (and Wilson) are in power. The sooner we get these clowns out of office the better. I happen to worry about the world we leave our children and grandchildren.

Saturday, July 05, 2014 at 12:22 PM To Shake It said...

Anyone can claim anything. You are clearly in that group. Says it enough times and then its true because people are so uneducated that they don't check for themselves. Keep saying it over and over and it will become true.

Saturday, July 05, 2014 at 8:42 AM Shake it said...

Report out today disclosed that fracking is the cause of an increased number of earthquakes in Oklahoma. No surprise.

Saturday, July 05, 2014 at 12:40 AM
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