This week independent researchers from Wake Forest University confirmed that 35 million gallons of toxic coal ash had spilled into the Dan River from the Duke Energy coal ash dump in Eden, North Carolina. That makes it the third largest spill of coal ash ever in the United States. Across our state there are another 13 of these giant coal ash dumps that have been leaking contamination into our water.
Earlier this year, we all heard about the spill of 10,000 gallons of MCHM (a toxic chemical used in the production of coal) in West Virginia that left over 300,000 people without water. The spill paralyzed whole communities, shutting down businesses and leaving families in a desperate search for sources of potable water. A month after the spill, residents say that the odor from the chemical remains in the water and the truth is we don’t even know how dangerous the chemical is to our health.
There are still no estimates as to how long or how costly the clean-ups will be, but we can be certain they will require many years and many millions of dollars, without including the damage to the communities, their health, their air and their water. These unfortunate events remind us just how important it is to get the rules right BEFORE risky energy development moves into our backyards. Fortunately, there’s one mess we have a chance to get ahead of in North Carolina—fracking.
Just last week, we helped to release a new 30-second video, narrated by James Taylor -- a North Carolina native and NRDC Trustee -- about the rush to allow reckless fracking here. As you read this, North Carolina’s Mining and Energy Commission is pushing to open the state up to fracking with weak regulations that will leave citizens vulnerable to air pollution, water contamination and other dangers. Under these rules, property owners could be forced to tolerate fracking (literally) in their own backyards, and against their wishes. Citizens would be kept in the dark about what chemicals are being injected into their property. And without a plan for disposal, large volumes of waste water generated by fracking operations could end up in dumps next to rivers and streams or get injected underground, alongside our aquifers.
As we’ve seen fracking explode across the country, more and more alarms are going off about the dangers to communities affected by these operations. The natural gas that is stored underground in North Carolina, if there is any, will not be going anywhere – there’s no sense in rushing ahead recklessly. The state should take the time to evaluate the risks, and determine whether and how to protect North Carolinians from falling victim to them.