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NC Senate Wants Fracking In The State By July 2015, But House May Not Be Ready

Photo: A farm in Lee County
Donald Lee Pardue via Flickr

The North Carolina Senate has tentatively approved legislation that would lift the state’s de-facto moratorium on hydraulic fracturing next year, but will likely be challenged by the House of Representatives and Governor Pat McCrory.

The bill, known as the Energy Modernization Act, calls for the state to start issuing permits for drilling companies to extract natural gas through the controversial drilling method known as fracking on July 1, 2015.

The central disagreement in the senate’s 33-13 vote on Wednesday was whether the state should be inviting drilling companies to the state before a set of environmental and health precautions are taken. Proponents say lawmakers, who have been mulling over allowing fracking since at least 2012, have taken enough considerations and should send businesses a message that they’ll be able to operate in the state next year.

“What this does is it establishes a date certain so that many of the businesses or industries that are looking to come to North Carolina will know how to plan for the future,” Rucho told the Senate. “It gives them an opportunity to prepare for their investment in our state.”

The bill says drilling companies don’t have to disclose certain chemicals that they pump into the ground for fracking, if they determine the chemical mixture is a “trade secret." A state geologist would keep information on the trade secret and could release it to health officials only in the event of a public emergency. Sen. Josh Stein (D-Wake), who voted against the bill, said the public should know the chemicals being used for extraction.

But perhaps the biggest obstacles to the bill is the provision that sets a date for permits because the state’s Mining and Energy Commission, which was appointed by lawmakers, has not finalized a set of rules that will govern fracking in the state. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, members of the House of Representatives are likely to present opposition to that section.

“The major concern is we want to make sure the rules are what we want them to be before we go out and frack,” Rep. Mike Hager (R-Rutherdforton) told the newspaper. “It's gotta be rules first and then moratorium. You don't want to go flying blind.”

And for the governor, who has lobbied the General Assembly to expedite fracking, there is a separate section of the bill that is problematic. From the News & Observer:

Gov. Pat McCrory also has concerns about the legislation and is negotiating with lawmakers to change some provisions before the House debate, which could take place as early as next week. One sticking point that is not popular among local officials: The Energy Modernization Act would prohibit local governments from passing ordinances that are perceived by the energy industry as a hindrance to shale gas exploration. “We are still considering the implications of several provisions regarding governance and the potential impact on city and county governments,” said Josh Ellis, a spokesman for the governor. “We will work with the Senate and the House to ensure that the final bill protects the environment and promotes responsible exploration of our energy and mineral resources.”

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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