State tells EPA to keep its grant money for fracking

Sep. 25, 2013 @ 07:59 PM

RALEIGH — North Carolina has returned a federal grant which would have helped monitor water quality in streams and wetlands that could be impacted by drilling for natural gas.

In an email dated Sept. 3, the state informed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it doesn't need a $222,595 grant for water quality monitoring in areas seen as candidates for hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."

The same email also declines a $359,710 grant to establish a long-term wetlands monitoring network in the coastal plains and Piedmont areas of the state. Both

Division of Water Resources director Tom Reeder said the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission, which is charged with developing rules on fracking, has asked the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources to explain the return of the EPA grant at its Friday meeting.

Reeder said the fracking study will be done, but not now and not by the unit that applied for the grant. Reeder said other scientists within the division are equipped to do the work.

"We have people in the division that are able to do these kinds of studies any time they need to be done," Reeder said. "I can go out and do that and do it a lot cheaper than it would have cost the federal government. ... I have not done a thing that would negatively impact the environment of North Carolina."

The Sierra Club questioned the state's giving up the money, which was first reported by the N.C. Coastal Federation.

Molly Diggins, the club's director in North Carolina, said it makes no sense for the state to walk away from federal money after legislators cut $2 million from water programs this year.

"This is not a grant being imposed on North Carolina by a federal agency that doesn't really know what we need," she said. "This was a grant being sought by DENR to meet known challenges."

The Program Development Unit, which housed experts in aquatic ecosystems, would have received the grants. The unit is being disbanded in a reorganization of the division.