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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.


"The blades are long, clenched tight in their fist, aimin' straight at your back, and I don't think they'll miss..." Backstabbers by the O'Jays

I couldn't sleep last night. I was mulling over this continuing debacle around chemical disclosure, what it portends for future rules and the political will to enforce them if fracking is allowed to happen in North Carolina.

Mining and Energy Commission (MEC) Chairman Jim Womack in the News and Observer:

 "I feel, No.1, a little bit disappointed, and No. 2, blindsided." 

More from the article: 

"Womack, a Lee County commissioner and Army veteran who earned a Bronze Star in Operation Desert Storm, called the trade-secret exemption a cop-out. “You can’t have the industry come in and say, ‘It’s a trade secret so I’m not going to disclose it,’ ” he said. “Someone needs to verify the assertion of a trade secret; otherwise it’s ripe for exploitation.”

Read more here:

Friends, this was how some MEC members felt in May when they were blindsided by Mr.Womack's decision to pull the draft chemical disclosure rule from consideration. I was skeptical of Chairman Womack's reassurances that we were moving towards a "full disclosure rule" and endured a bit of a lecture from some MEC members about my comments to the Commission. Afterwards, Vice Chairman George Howard took me to task for being critical of what had occurred. As I recall I told Mr. Howard that I wondered just what we would be giving up. (If you would like to hear my comments, the link is pasted below. Public comment is at the end of Audio 3).

Someone made an end-run around the Mining and Energy Commission.process; is this what we can expect in future?

Chairman Womack, I agree that its a cop-out and ripe for exploitation. From where I sit, "a few of your buddies, they sure look shady."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"Holy Crap Batman"


The News and Observer just reported that an "NC Senate committee says full chemical disclosure not required to frack." 

Link here:

Lets go to the way-back machine (from the June 7th blog post): "Chairman Womack indicates that we will have a "full disclosure" rule. I leave it to you, dear reader to form your own conclusions."

Hmmmmm. Perhaps its now time to introduce you to another fracking family member. Former Representative Mitch Gillespie (background info at the link), now Assistant Secretary of Environment for the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

This latest news makes the following comments clear:

Chairman Jim Womack (JW): It would be helpful to know, if one of you guys would be so kind as to go to Mitch, and say, "what do you think?" 'Cause if Mitch says...[discussion about being involved in collecting and dispersing impact fees]..."

~ JW continues~

"Yeah, well, somebody, somebody needs to carry that, get that up to vet it with Mitch. {Certainly] want to know, 'cause he's, he's already poured water on a couple of other ideas we've had."

Its scary out there...

From S820: "The Commission shall formulate recommendations that maintain a uniform system for the management of such activities, which allow for reasonable local regulations, including required setbacks, infrastructure placement, and light and noise restrictions, that do not prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting oil and gas exploration and development activities, and the use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing for that purpose, or otherwise conflict with State law."

Today's title seems appropriate for this particular part of the blog  as it is a compilation of a couple of meetings,  and  indicative of the attitude of some North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission members towards extraneous issues, like setbacks.

During the Local Government Study Group meeting June 7 (remember the knock on wood?) Commission member Charles Holbrook was heard to say, "Oh, its scary."  Mr. Holbrook's remark came during discussion of Lee County GIS coordinator Don Kovasckitz's presentation to the full MEC earlier that morning on severed estates, setbacks, well placement and other issues facing Lee County.

Charles Holbrook (CH): "Yeah, uh I think looking at the map Don Kovasckitz presented today, if, if you're not really careful in how you do the setbacks you [could] freeze yourself out of being able to operate anywhere."

DK's presentation was indeed enlightening. These are screenshots showing some of the layers of setbacks (from a wellhead).Setbacks are in red:

This image shows the areas excluded applying New York's recommended setback between a well-head and water supply well of 2640 feet.

This image shows excluded areas using Texas' 467 foot setback of a well-head from property boundaries

This image shows excluded areas if the minimum setbacks were applied to all features, surface water, wells, roads, etc.

All that crap...

This is the statement that North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission (MEC) Chair Jim Womack used to describe historic sites and other "extraneous" stuff.. His comment came during a discussion of permitting costs at the "Funding Levels and Potential Funding Sources" study group on June 17.

Link to audio:

You can find his quote near the end of "Audio 2."

Here is a transcription of the quote:

Jim Womack (JW): "...what is it? The Department, uh, what's the other one that does all the cultural stuff, Cultural Resources-looks at historic sites and all that crap, Indian burial grounds; you know all that stuff." {Serious backpedaling heard...]

The next MEC committee meetings are June 27th, and the full Commission meets the 28th. Better get the deviled eggs made, don't think an angel-food cake would work for this pot luck.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

 You Better Knock on Wood

"And they was using up all kinds of cop equipment that they had hanging around the police officer's station." -Alice's Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie

This post is not about Alice, or the restaurant. Its about how needed emergency management planning in the shale basins and elsewhere is being addressed. And, its not from where I usually sit at the various and sundry Mining and Energy Commission (MEC) meetings. The Local Government Study Group (LGSG) headed up by Charles Taylor met on June 7, 2013 at the same time the Trade Secrets Study Group met. So, this recounting of the high points of the LGSG meeting is from the audio recording. 

The link is here:

Somebody knocked on wood. Really.

During a very tentative discussion around what emergency services and training might be needed in the shale basins, Charles Taylor described a gas emergency a while back in Lee County after a tornado. Taylor stated that emergency management had to be brought in from Charlotte and were on the site for "5 consecutive days." He seemed very impressed with their Suburbans and nifty equipment. 

From the audio:

Toby Vinson (TV), DENR staff: (Disclaimer, I did not recognize his voice absolutely. I consulted someone who was at this meeting and was advised that Mr. Vinson was the speaker)

"I guess because one of the things I guess we don't know what the existing EOC (I took this to mean emergency operations center) response would be for this particular situation, I guess one of the recommendations we could look at or make would be to make sure that the county emergency management along with [the] state EOC or state Emergency Management Office, [within the Department of Public Safety (DPS)], make sure they have a coordinated response and know what the exisiting issues are that they might have to respond to."

~Some discussion.~

He continued, " There might be other things like, uh, well blow-outs that we don't know if they're already prepared for, or not."

Commissioner Charles Holbrook (CH):
"I would like to say, though, that blow-outs are extremely rare."

Somebody could be heard knocking on wood.

At that point I paused and rewound. 

After more discussion about how regional emergency management coordination is/is not  happening it was still not clear how it will occur around this industry's many potential hazards.

TV: "You don't want to overwhelm them [volunteer fire and EMS] because they're dealing with limited personnel." 

And limited financial resources. There was a question about who paid the costs for management of the Lee County gas emergency, Mr. Taylor stated he thought the landowner's insurance did. 

MEC Chairman Jim Womack reported some time back that he had polled several counties in Pennsylvania and his impression was that they had things (emergency management) under control. I looked into that a bit. The American Public Health Association reported in 2012 that a study conducted by the Pennsylvania County Commissioner's Association showed that "the state was experiencing deficits in emergency management and hazardous materials response planning in drilling areas."
Here's a link to the report: Marcellus Shale Emergency Preparedness

From where I sit,  in the murky and complex world of gas leases, the question of liability, if insurance will even cover such things and indemnification, it will be a bureaucratic and legal nightmare to get the bill paid. Emergency departments will be the ones left holding the bag.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Things that make you go hmmmmm:Part II

Things that make you go hmmmmm:Part II

Good morning to all of you. There is so much material from last week's Mining and Energy Commission (MEC) meetings that  if  I were to try and combine all of the interesting comments and conversations into one post, it would be exceedingly lengthy. To that end, I am breaking it up into several; the chemical disclosure controversy was already reported. Today's post is on the direction the MEC seems to be heading in rule development.

Keywords: Excessive. Red flag. Accelerating. Industry. Industry. Industry.Oh-and Industry.

In 2012, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation (S820) that legalized fracking in North Carolina. That legislation directs the operator to test all water supplies within 5000 feet of a wellhead.

Session Law 2012-143, SB820 reads:

"Pre-Drilling Testing of Water Supplies. – Any lease of oil or gas rights or any other conveyance of any kind separating rights to oil or gas from the freehold estate of surface property shall include a clause that requires the oil or gas developer or operator to conduct a test of all water supplies within 5,000 feet from a wellhead that is part of the oil or gas developer's or operator's activities at least 30 days prior to initial drilling activities and at least two follow-up tests within a 24-month period after production has commenced."

At the June 7 meeting of the North Carolina Mining and Energy meeting there was much discussion on what should be included in the required baseline water testing. Some Commissioners expressed care and concern that the comprehensive testing could be "onerous" for Industry (translate expensive). Some of the remarks:

George Howard (GH): "[We might have to] turn another knob, either a shorter reach, or reduce [the] constituents tested for." Howard then mentioned that testing requirements which were too comprehensive would be a "red flag to industry."

Charles Holbrook (CH): "Some of the rules we are developing are excessive compared to other states." Holbrook remarked that the MEC should be vetting the draft rules with industry, and that there should be more formal outreach.

Dr. Ken Taylor (KT): "The Legislature said 5000 feet, the Legislature said ALL [emphasis mine]. The legislation (S820) set it in stone."

CH: "Laws can be changed."

Chairman Jim Womack remarked later that the MEC may have to go to the General Assembly with recommendations, to get needed statutory authority, or other issues.

Hmmmmm. The MEC can't ask for statutory authority in relation to trade secrets or chemical disclosure, but can ask for laws  that established certain baseline testingto be changed? Commissioner Holbrook, don't think you need worry about Industry vetting the rules. I think they already have.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The last two days with the Mining and Energy Commission have given me much material for this blog and it is hard to "be surgical" (as Chairman Womack is fond of saying). This post will focus on the Chemical Disclosure debacle.

  "...(the) Chemical Disclosure rule WAS  the toughest in the country[emphasis added] ." That's what Commissioner George Howard said today during discussion of the first rule moved forward for the consideration of the MEC. The draft rule was left hanging in limbo after it was pulled from the May 3 MEC  agenda after a heated meeting of the Rules Committee on May 2- widely reported on and the subject of many editorials. After a long day with my extended family yesterday, I missed them so much that I listened to the audio of the meeting on May 2 when I got home. Partial transcript below.

Jim Womack (JW): "And the next part down...I don't know if we want to get into this today, I dunno; what do you think George?"

George Howard (GH): "That's up to you Mr. Chairman. (indecipherable iterations) I don't know [if] we've reached a conclusion, but since we've talked about it privately, we should share it." (I wish I could have seen his face).

And off they went.

Commission Chair Womack expressed his thoughts about having a rule that was "mutually agreeable and acceptable". Agreeable and acceptable to who?

JW:  "I would think that your question mark on the quantities, I would think that at this juncture if we were just to scratch, ummm, scratch the quantities...maybe we'd get past this for now?"

 Charlotte Mitchell (CM):  "What are you guys (Womack, Howard and probably Charles Holbrook) contemplating here? Are we talking about changes to the substance of the rule?"

JW:  "I think we're  talking about substantive changes to the rule."

CM: "And what, what do you mean exactly?"

Further discussion. You can listen here: It's towards the end of audio 2.

CM: "It just seems like now we're rehashing...we're having the conversation that we've already had, I''m a little confused at what we're doing at this point why are we going through this rule line by line if you guys are planning to bring this rule back up."

JW: "Just be aware that we are revisiting the rule, because [we've] still got some contention about the rule."

CM: "Where is the...content[ion], I mean we've passed this rule out of committee, I mean I've got some concern; is this the way this Commission is gonna work?"

GH: "One of the most disruptive things we can do is pass something that gets rejected as is already by DENR and already by the legislature..."

CM: DENR has rejected this rule? By whose testimony?

GH: "No DENR has said they don't want to keep trade secrets."

CM: "Whose testimony?"

GH: "Mitch Gillespie."

Note: DENR keeps trade secrets all the time. Sometimes improperly. Believe me I know.

This discussion is what prompted this article:

Yesterday, Rules Committee Chair Amy Pickle said: ( This is paraphrased somewhat, I type slow and write slower).

  • Have been working on this rule quite a bit. The alternative proposal will supplant the rule in draft form now. The metric by which we will be judged is the Chemical Disclosure rule. Chair Womack is not here to discuss the proposal. "I think, the, I want to be particularly careful with the function of the Rules Committee. My general preference is that any substantive discussion be had in committee or [the] full MEC."

Chairman Womack indicates that we will have a "full disclosure" rule.

I leave it to you, dear reader to form your own conclusions.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Things that make you go hmmmm.

After seeing a presentation by NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources at the Mining and Energy Commission's Water and Waste Management Committee on May 31, and listening to today's debate on SB76 in the NC House I wondered how far it was from Pennsylvania to the Ohio underground injection disposal wells which triggered small earthquakes. It was said that  transporting liquid fracking waste the 200 miles from Lee County's sweet spot to Down East areas was not economically feasible. The distance from Bedford County, Pennsylvania,  to the underground disposal wells that apparently triggered the seismic activity in the Youngstown Ohio area is 161 miles. From Clearville, Pennsylvania (also in Bedford County) the distance to the Youngstown area is 183 miles. From where I sit, 183 miles is mighty darn close to 200...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Good Morning,

I found that the agendas for MEC meetings later this week have finally been posted. The link is below.

Agendas for June 6 and 7 meetings

Monday, June 3, 2013

The next Mining and Energy Commission meetings are June 6 and 7 2013, at the Archdale Building, 512 N Salisbury St, Raleigh, 27604. Agendas have not been sent out at this time.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Greetings! This blog will report the goings-on of North Carolina's Mining and Energy Commission (MEC), who has been charged by the Legislature to develop rules regulating hydraulic fracturing. Having attended  meetings for many months, it occurred to me that people might like to get a more intimate look at this entertaining and endearing group. I can't possibly catch you up on all the priceless comments which have already been uttered; but stay tuned!

 The MEC and its adjunct committees meet regularly.

Allow me to present the cast of characters:

  • James Womack, Chairman of the Mining and Energy Commission
  • George Howard, Vice-Chairman of the Mining and Energy Commission
  • Dr. Robert Mensah-BineyChair, N.C. State University Minerals Research Laboratory Advisory Committee
  • Dr. Kenneth TaylorState Geologist and Chief, N.C. Geological Survey
  • Dr. Ray Covington, Guilford County
  • Charles TaylorLee County
  • Charles HolbrookGeologist 
  • Ivan “Tex” Gilmore, Representative of the mining industry
  • Dr. Vikram RaoEngineer with experience in oil and gas exploration and development
  • Charlotte Mitchell, Esq.
  • Amy PickleMember of the Environmental Management Commission 
  • Dr. Marva PriceChatham County

Derogatory or inflammatory comments  will not be tolerated.