Fracking in Chatham County is on hold again after the county commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to extend a moratorium on oil and gas drilling..
First enacted in August 2015, the moratorium now will run through Jan. 31, 2019. The extension gives commissioners moretime to develop a comprehensive plan to regulate the energy extraction method.
"I am clearly in favor of extending the moratorium," Commissioner Jim Crawford said. "I am afraid it is going to come. The whole state is going to have to come to terms with this, even though our little neck of the woods is going to feel it the most."
Fourteen residents spoke in favor of extending the moratorium during a public hearing.
"I respectfully request that you extend the moratorium on oil and gas activities in our county until such time as they can be deemed safe," Amanda Robertson said. "The risks involved in these processes have already been demonstrated across the country and in particular West Virginia and Pennsylvania."
Others said they fear methane releases and diesel exhaust from tanker trucks would harm the county’s air quality, while fracking itself would threaten local water supplies.
"We need to get these restrictions in place before it begins, not after," Martha Girolami said. "We already have some. We have to start thinking about the cumulative effects of these industries. I certainly support the extension, but I don't see how we're going to get all the information we need in six months."
A transplant from the Northeast also spoke against fracking.
"I moved down here a couple of years ago from New Jersey, so if you want advice on what not to do, you can talk to me," said Carl Pastoreck. The reason I am down here is because of the pristine environment. I think it would be very irresponsible to ever consider fracking here."
Fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing. It's a type of petroleum drilling for natural gas that was developed about 65 years ago. Fracking has been used extensively during the last decade in other states where natural gas reserves have been discovered. North Carolina has pockets of similar geology, including areas in Chatham and Lee counties, where natural gas could be found.
Commissioners sought outside expert advice during the initial moratorium.
Environmental consultant Charles Yuill studied Chatham to explore how, and where, fracking might affect the county. He delivered his report to commissioners last October.
Any natural gas drilling in Chatham would come in the form of shallow fracking using vertical wells, a model Yuill said can lead to a higher incidence of groundwater contamination because the mixture of water and chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing is injected closer to underground aquifers.
North Carolina rescinded its ban on oil and gas exploration in 2014. When it did, the state prohibited local governments from banning drilling outright but allows for temporary moratoriums. The commissioners are working on an ordinance they hope will restrict fracking in the county.
"It is a devil's bargain," Chairwoman Diana Hales said. "It is not clean, and getting it is not clean. It certainly is not clean for anyone living by it who has to live with the day-to-day water and air pollution. We have promised as a board that we are going to do what we can to protect Chatham County."