N.C. returns EPA grant for fracking study
North Carolina’s environment agency has taken the unusual step of returning a federal grant to study streams and wetlands that could be harmed by hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources had itself recommended last year that baseline water-quality data be collected where drilling might occur. The information would help document any problems linked to drilling.
But under new leadership appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory, the department now says it doesn’t want the $222,595 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. The department also returned a second grant of $359,710 for wetlands monitoring.
Division of Water Resources director Tom Reeder said the fracking study will be done, but not now and not by the unit that applied for the grant. The Program Development Unit, which housed experts in aquatic ecosystems, is being disbanded in a reorganization of the division.
Reeder said other scientists within the division are equipped to do the work. It will start, he said, once the location and start of fracking, and pollutants of concern, become clear.
“We know we have to have this data,” Reeder said. “I don’t think we can move forward with fracturing, by statute, without this data.”
The part of North Carolina most likely to be tapped is in the Sanford Basin of Lee County, southwest of Raleigh.
The N.C. Mining and Energy Commission, which is charged with developing rules on fracking, has asked the department to explain the return of the EPA grant at its Friday meeting, Reeder said.
The Sierra Club questioned the state’s giving up the money, which was first reported by the N.C. Coastal Federation. Molly Diggins, the group’s N.C. director, said it makes no sense for the state to walk away from federal money after legislators cut $2 million from water programs this year.
“This is not a grant being imposed on North Carolina by a federal agency that doesn’t really know what we need,” she said. “This was a grant being sought by DENR to meet known challenges.”
Diggins added: “It raises the concern of whether this is part of a trend of backing away from science.”