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Five Actions NC Lawmakers Want To Take On Fracking This Spring

A photo of a rig and gas well operation in the Marcellus Shale in Jackson Township, Pa.
WCN 24-7 via flickr

North Carolina lawmakers approved on Thursday the draft of a bill that outlines how drilling companies may be able to conduct a controversial type of natural gas extraction in the state.

The bill, which the General Assembly will deliberate when it convenes for session this month, includes provisions on the chemicals used for gas extraction, the possibility of water contamination, and local government ordinances.

The drilling, called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is controversial because it requires the use of chemicals and poses risks to groundwater. But state lawmakers, who have visited gas production states such as Arkansas, say it’s an untapped economic growth engine and that there are safe ways to do it.

Some environmental observers say lawmakers should instead focus on helping create an infrastructure for solar and wind energy instead of natural gas because its abundance in the state is not fully proven. Lawmakers say they're planning on voting in the spring of 2015 to allow North Carolina to start issuing permits to gas drilling companies.

Here’s the full draft of the Energy Modernization Act. Here are five key sections:

Trade Secret Chemicals

Under the bill, drilling companies would not have to tell the public what some of the chemicals they use are, if they say that they are trade secrets. The companies would disclose the trade secrets to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Division of Emergency Management, which in the event of a public health emergency can disclose them to hospitals or firefighters.

Water Contamination

Drilling companies would be required to test water supplies within 2,640 feet of a planned well head before drilling starts. This updates a provision that held companies liable for water supplies up to 5,000 feet away from a well. Lawmakers say the new requirement provides for enough of a precaution and that the old one would have been made drilling cost-prohibitive. Environmental observers point out that water contaminated from fracking in other states has been found more than 3,000 feet from a site.

The owners of the drilling operation would be responsible for cleaning up any contamination.

Forced Fracking Advances

The state’s Mining and Energy Commission and the Consumer Protection Division would study an existing state law that require people to sell the oil or gas under their land if enough of their neighbors are selling their own oil or gas. This is one of the most emotional issues related to fracking.

A study group called the Compulsory Pooling Study Group recommended to lawmakers last year that if 90 percent of acreage of a drilling area is voluntarily leased, the remaining property owners should be forcibly pooled into the drilling. Virginia requires 25 percent of a drilling unit to be leased to force neighbors to participate while Arkansas requires 1 percent. Pennsylvania and West Virginia, homes of the Marcellus Shale region, one of the most intensively fracked in the world, do not allow forced pooling.

Local Ordinances

The bill preemptively invalidates any local ordinances that seek to prohibit or place any restrictions on fracking or related activities. Local governments across the country, including in Colorado and Texas, have banned fracking, even though there’s gas production elsewhere in their state.

Natural Gas Drilling 101

The bill calls for the State Board of Community Colleges to study the demand and feasibility of creating an academic program to train people to work in the gas drilling industry.

Jorge Valencia has been with North Carolina Public Radio since 2012. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Jorge studied journalism at the University of Maryland and reported for four years for the Roanoke Times in Virginia before joining the station. His reporting has also been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, and the Baltimore Sun.
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