Smoky Mountains
North Carolina is begging for some fracking.
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North Carolina’s water department doesn’t know if fracking will poison drinking water or despoil wetlands — and that’s just how department leaders like it.

We told you recently that the state is pushing to allow oil and gas companies to use hydraulic fracturing without property owners’ permission. It’s part of a Republican-led push to hurry-the-fuck-up-already on fracking, environmental and health concerns be damned.

Now comes news that Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration has turned down a pair of EPA grants that would have paid for monitoring of water quality and wetlands as the much-ballyhooed fracking bonanza gets underway. Because, um, well, they say it’s because the fracking boom isn’t happening quickly enough to justify any pre-fracking baseline environmental monitoring.

The state wetlands program’s development unit applied for the two EPA grants before Gov. McCrory was sworn into office in January. Under McCrory, however, the unit was dissolved amid a bureaucratic restructure, and the Division of Water Resources turned down the nearly $600,000 worth of federal assistance that the state had previously requested.

The Daily Tar Heel reports that the division’s director, Tom Reeder, defended the decision on Friday during a meeting of the Mining and Energy Commission, which is responsible for developing the state’s fracking rules. But not everyone was convinced:

“I find when you get in these types of discussions when there’s a lot of accusations being made, it’s good to inject a little reality into the discussion now and again,” Reeder told the commission.

Reeder said one of the reasons the department returned the grant is because the funded studies would have covered a broader region than the proposed fracking area and would be completed too far in advance of drilling to be a useful baseline testing.

But George Matthis, a former DENR employee who spoke before the commission, said EPA grants are usually able to be amended and timelines can be extended.

“This whole business with the grant returns really got under my skin,” Matthis said in an interview. “Having managed grants for 15 years for this department, it just doesn’t make any sense.”

We share Matthis’s hunch that the decision has more to do with the division’s pro-business slant than any trivial concerns over the finer details of the studies. Reeder says “a little reality” is what’s needed in this discussion, but reality is exactly what he’s trying to avoid.