Release: Baseline Water Testing No Longer In Department’s Mission, DENR Official States

For Immediate Release

 

September 23, 2013

 

Contact: Molly Diggins, molly.diggins@sierraclub.org, 919.833.8467

 

Baseline Water Testing No Longer In Department’s Mission, DENR Official States

Vital Unit in DENR Set to Be Eliminated

 

RALEIGH -  As North Carolina develops rules for the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, the McCrory administration has declined a key research grant sought by DENR and awarded to the state by EPA.  The grant funds that would have enable DENR to collect baseline water data for the Sanford Basin area.   The research would have fulfilled a key recommendation in DENR’s 2012 comprehensive study on fracking (see below).

 

As highlighted in today’s Coastal Review article  “State Declines $600k in Federal Grants”, the McCrory administration’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources has turned down two 2013 grants for which it applied, and which were awarded to the state by US EPA. The grants, totaling nearly $600,000, were selected for approval in a competitive application process.  The EPA grant program is intended to build the capacity of state agency to effectively address water quality challenges.

 

“This is exactly the time that our state would benefit from the science and research that the grants are intended to support,” said Molly Diggins, state director of the NC Sierra Club.

“The McCrory administration has walked away from funding that would help the state to make sound decisions about fracking and water quality.”

 

The two grants would have funded DENR’s Program Development Unit staff, which provides technical support for a variety of projects within the Surface Water Protection Section of the Division of Water Resources (DWR).  Over the past 16 years, DENR applied for and was awarded almost $10 million in federal EPA funds, according to the Coastal Review story.

 

Once existing EPA grant requirements are fulfilled, the water program research and technical support arm of DENR will be shut down, and staff will lose their jobs or be relocated, the story says.

 

The EPA grants should have been welcome news, after the legislature approved and the Governor signed a budget slashing funds for DENR's water protection programs by $2 million.  These cuts come in addition to severe cuts during the Great Recession.

 

Turning down these grants flies in the face of DENR's own recommendations for how to ensure surface water protection with oil and gas development. An excerpt from DENR’s Oil and Gas Study recommending the collection of baseline surface water data in areas likely to be subject to oil and gas drilling follows:

 

From: Oil and Gas Study, DENR 2012, p. 145-146

 

Conclusions related to surface water impacts and stormwater management

 

We recommend conducting baseline data collection for surface waters. Pre‐drilling surface water monitoring data should be collected for areas proposed for drilling to establish baseline water quality information. The extent and location of data collection should be determined as drilling blocks are established.

 

The impacts of stormwater discharges from oil and gas exploration and production are substantially similar to the impacts from the construction and industrial activities that occur in North Carolina today. Oil and gas exploration and production can disturb large areas of land to develop impervious well pad sites, creating significant impacts related to sedimentation and erosion, water quality pollution, increased peak discharges, increased frequency and severity of flooding, and other stormwater concerns.

 

However, unlike existing  construction and industrial activities, oil and gas exploration and production activities are exempt from the requirements of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) stormwater permit program under the federal Clean Water Act unless there has been a documented water quality standard violation, or release of a reportable quantity of oil or hazardous substance. Since North Carolina has relied on the federal stormwater permitting programs to manage industrial stormwater impacts, the state is not prepared to effectively manage stormwater impacts associated with oil and gas production.

 

We recommend that the General Assembly authorize a state stormwater regulatory Program for oil and gas activities, including requirements for stormwater permitting, inspections and compliance activities.

 

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