A free program to test well water quality in Lee and Chatham counties is getting underway Thursday with two informational sessions in Sanford for interested property owners.
The purpose of the testing program is to collect data about local water quality in advance of potential "fracking" in the state for natural gas. Water quality tests can cost up to $2,000 per well and are out of range for most farmers and property owners.
Some fear that natural gas drilling contaminates drinking water with methane gas and chemicals, and having baseline data will help determine if those fears are founded should drilling be allowed in this state. Disputes over water contamination in other states have resulted in claims of mystery illnesses and animal deaths, as well as lawsuits, settlements, bottled water deliveries and some homeowners being relocated at the expense of the drilling company.
The testing program, conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, Duke University and Lee County, will test about 75 of the 250 public and private wells in northern Lee and southern Chatham counties, the areas most likely to be explored if natural gas drilling is legalized. The testing will take place between March and September, and the laboratory results will be provided to property owners.
This year the state legislature is likely to debate the legalization of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (or fracking). Geologists believe the state could have a 40-year supply of natural gas trapped in prehistoric shale rock deposits around Lee, Chatham, Moore and Durham counties.
Supporters of fracking say that natural gas is a clean-burning, domestic energy resource that can offset burning dirty coal and importing foreign oil.