BUIES CREEK - Central North Carolina is sitting on a trove of natural gas deposits sitting more than 3,000 feet below the ground. To reach that fuel source - which some scientists say could provide energy for the state for the next 40 to 50 years - drillers would have to use a controversial method known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
While state lawmakers continue to debate whether or not North Carolina will follow the lead of other states tapping its own natural resource, Campbell University will host a public forum, “Exploration of Natural Gas and the Future of N.C.: A Scientific Perspective” on March 23, the first day of the three-day North Carolina Academy of Science Meeting.
The forum will be hosted by Dr. Charles Lytle, emeritus professor of zoology at North Carolina State University, and is scheduled to include panelists well-versed in the science behind natural gas drilling. Lytle, a biologist and environmental scientist, said what has bothered him the most in the natural gas debate is the lack of public knowledge, and he hopes the forum - which is open to the public - will help stir up healthy debate.
“So many important public decisions have a strong science component,” Lytle said. “And neither the public nor our elected officials are aware or concerned with the scientific evidence needed in making these decisions.”
The forum will be just one of the highlights of the 109th Annual NCAS Meeting, which showcases a wide variety of research topics, keynote presentations and several other programs. The natural gas forum will look to present both sides of the debate, from the predicted economic boost drilling would provide the state to the potential environmental damage touted by drilling opponents.
“You have extremists on both sides,” Lytle said, “but the truth is always someplace in between. We’re trying to do this in a scientific setting where we’ll present facts and the pros and cons.”
Campbell’s home county, Harnett, neighbors Lee County, which is one of a handful of counties considered ripe for natural gas drilling. Lee is part of the Deep River Basin, where underground shale formations have trapped gas reserves in a rock-like cocoon. To reach that gas, stored more than 3,000 feet below the surface in some areas, according to geologists, drillers would need to pump roughly 1 million gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressures to expose the gas.
Opponents say the practice contaminates water supplies and even has the potential to trigger small earthquakes in the region, while drilling advocates say not enough research has been done to prove either claim.
“The two biggest concerns are the potential damage to the water supply and the public health considerations,” Lytle said. “That’s why I think we need an informed public, and we need an informed government so that anything they do, they do it with their eyes wide open.”
The March 23-25 meeting will touch on other environmental subjects as well. The keynote address on March 24 will be presented by Dr. Stuart Pimm of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. Pimm is a renowned authority in conservation biology and biodiversity and has penned more than 150 scientific papers, written several books and spoken to Congress on the Endangered Species Act.
The topic of Pimm’s presentation will be “biodiversity - the most beautiful carbon.”
Event organizer and Campbell University associate professor for the Department of Biological Sciences Dr. Karen Guzman said the annual meeting will draw strengths from all fields of science to provide an “excellent venue” to focus on the environment.
“The meeting is a great opportunity for both professionals and students from across the state to hear about recent research advances, to present their own research and to network with other scientists,” she said.
Guzman said many on campus have been involved in putting together this year’s meeting for months, and she expects a big turnout.
“I expect to come away renewed and energized,” she said. “I hope no one misses on this great opportunity.”
- by Billy Liggett, Assistant Director for Publications, Campbell University