North Carolina's august scientific society is the latest to add its voice to the cacophony over fracking.
The N.C. Academy of Science has issued its warning about the risks of fracking at a sensitive moment: The state legislature is contemplating lifting the state's moratorium on shale gas drilling. And the legislature is also looking at allowing energy companies to withhold trade secrets from public disclosures of chemicals used in tracking.
The N.C. Academy of Science, formed in 1902, calls itself one of the nation's oldest state science academies. The organization decided to prepare an official position statement on fracking, given the urgency of the subject in North Carolina.
"While these technologies promise economic benefits, numerous studies show that they can also harm the environment, society, and human health," the academy said. "Any effort to develop a regulatory framework for the oil and gas industries or to allow horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing should proceed only with the utmost caution."
The academy's letter has been sent to members of the N.C. House Environment Committee, House Public Utilities Committee as well as the Mining and Energy Commission, which is writing rules to oversee tracking in the state. The academy plans to send its position to more public officials in the coming weeks, said biologist Charles Lytle, N.C. State University emeritus professor of zoology.
The cover letter is signed by Lytle; Michael Kingston, the president of the N.C. Academy of Science and a biology professor at Elon University; and Lisa Kelly, a biologist Lisa Kelly at UNC-Pembroke.
The academy's statement includes five policy recommendations, which tend to express a lack of confidence in tracking. The academy said its conclusions are based on the best available science (read: unsullied by political pressure).
The first recommendation says the state should not issue drilling permits until it has trained personnel and supplied adequate financial resource to enforce tracking laws and rules.
The academy also recommends that North Carolina "investigate the economic and social impacts of tracking in consideration of the limited amount of natural gas in the state's shale formations."
"Particularly troubling is the absence of long-term studies of the effects of tracking on human health and drinking water," the statement says.