State Senate Panel Approves Fracking Bill
N.C. Sen. Harris Blake and the four other members of a state Senate committee on energy policy have unanimously approved a fracking bill that contrasts sharply with a more conservative approach outlined last month by a bipartisan trio of House members.
The vote Wednesday advanced a package of three bills — the other two were also energy-related — that will be introduced in May during the General Assembly’s short session.
The fracking bill would legalize the controversial form of natural gas extraction within the next three years and establish new regulations to ensure that it can be done safely.
“Drilling wouldn’t start until July 1, 2014, at the earliest,” Blake said. “If all goes well, we will be ready to drill when the moratorium is lifted. But if we can’t do it safely, it will not be done.
“We don’t want to screw up, but we don’t want to wait another five years to reinvent the wheel. We don’t need to keep talking about something that’s been studied for the past 25 years.”
State Rep. Jamie Boles, a Republican who represents most of Moore County, said his main concern with the Clean Energy and Economic Security Act is the proposed establishment of an oil and gas board that would regulate the fracking industry.
“Does the industry write the rules or do we write the rules? I don’t believe in industry writing the rules,” said Boles, who made a “frack-finding” trip to Pennsylvania earlier this year. “The bottom line is how do we get there? The Senate is thinking one way, the House is thinking another.”
Boles has previously said that the House and Senate “agree that nothing is going to happen until 2014 or 2015.”
Molly Diggins, executive director of the N.C. Sierra Club, said it was “hard to find anything good” in the bill approved by the Legislative Research Commission’s Committee on Energy Policy Issues.
“Setting a fuse to allow fracking just doesn’t make sense right now,” Diggins said. “Given what we know so far — about the size of our resource, about the economic viability of drilling, about the long-term health and community impacts — rushing to allow fracking in North Carolina before the tough questions are answered is both irresponsible and unnecessary.”
Diggins said that the proposed legislation contrasts with what she believes to be strong public opposition to fracking, as evidenced by comments made during feedback hearings held last month by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
“During the public comment period, people repeatedly supported doing more study, taking our time, and establishing environmental protections. None of that is in the bill,” Diggins said.
DENR issued a draft report last month concluding that fracking can be done safely and responsibly as long as the right laws and protections are in place.
A go-slow approach was subsequently outlined by state Rep. Mitch Gillespie, a Marion Republican, who called for more study of the issues, with the possibility of legislation to legalize fracking left to a future session. He was joined in that effort by fellow House members Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat, and Sanford Republican Mike Stone.
State Sen. Bob Rucho, a Republican from Mecklenburg County who chaired the energy policy committee, told The News & Observer that he believes the proposed legislation will continue to be revised and will likely end up with even more safeguards than DENR recommended.
The draft report, and any subsequent legislation, is important to northern Moore County, which lies atop the Deep River Basin, where state geologists believe a 40-year supply of natural gas exists.
The final report must be submitted to the General Assembly by May 1.
Fracking is illegal in North Carolina — for now. But legislation passed last year by the General Assembly authorized the study and moved the state closer to shale gas development.
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at email@example.com.
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