Fracking in N.C. Comes Down to Perdue Decision
The decision to legalize fracking in North Carolina is likely to come down to Gov. Beverly Perdue and whether the Republican-led General Assembly has enough votes to override a potential veto.
Perdue, a Democrat, has remained silent on the controversial form of extracting natural gas since stating early last month that she supports fracking if it can be properly regulated.
The state House, in a 66-43 vote last Thursday, approved a bill that would overhaul North Carolina’s energy policy to allow drilling for natural gas. The bill now goes back to the state Senate, where it is expected to be approved early this week.
State Rep. Jamie Boles, a Republican who represents most of Moore County, supported the bill.
“I like the bill that we passed because it frames the rule-making process,” Boles said. “It doesn’t approve fracking. This is the first step of many, and we don’t know how the governor is going to weigh in.”
If Perdue vetoes the bill, fracking proponents would need 72 votes in the House for an override.
If the governor does not veto it, next steps include naming the members of the Mining and Energy Commission and setting a schedule for the creation of regulations and other related work.
Boles said the General Assembly worked closely with the governor’s office to send her a bill with growing bipartisan support. The bill passed Thursday also gives the governor four appointees to the commission.
“She had none in previous versions of the bill,” Boles said. “If she vetoes it, we address her concerns. We want the rules and regulations process to start, whether it’s now or with a new administration.”
The General Assembly would have to approve all new regulations and standards before any drilling and fracking permits could be issued. That vote could at least be two years away.
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking,” is germane to northern Moore County, which lies atop the Deep River Basin, where state geologists initially believed a 40-year supply of natural gas exists.
But a recently released U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) assessment showed that the Deep River Basin has an amount of natural gas equivalent to 5.6 years of usage based on 2010 consumption rates in North Carolina.
Fracking is illegal in North Carolina — for now. The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said last month in a report that fracking “can be done safely” only if lawmakers adopt state-specific regulatory standards and invest “sufficient resources” in compliance and enforcement prior to issuing any drilling permits.
Critics of the legislation say it does not allow enough time to develop rules and regulations to ensure families, communities and the environment will be protected from the risks associated with natural gas development.
The bill directs the commission and several state agencies to study the impacts and develop the regulations by October 2014.
Jane Preyer, director of the Southeast office of the Environmental Defense Fund, called the timeline “arbitrary and irresponsible.”
“The new law does not give agencies time, staff or money to know the facts and develop responsible policies,” Preyer said. “This is a new industry for North Carolina. State agencies are being forced to write regulations in the dark.”
Preyer cited the USGS assessment as another reason for a “go-slow” approach.
“Geologists say gas resources here are modest and will not attract industry interest for years, so it makes no sense for the legislature to race this fast on such a big decision for the state,” she said.
Molly Diggins, state director of the N.C. Sierra Club, said the aquifer in the Deep River Basin is closer to shale gas deposits than in other states, which may make groundwater more vulnerable to contamination from chemicals used in the fracking process.
“Unfortunately, the legislature seems committed to moving forward with fracking without getting essential questions answered about the potential impact on our water resources,” Diggins said. “There’s too much at stake to make a risky bet like this. The public deserves better.”
Fracking supporters, on the other hand, tout the new jobs and tax revenue that fracking will bring to North Carolina. They claim the risks are manageable with the right laws and regulations.
There is a contentious worldwide debate over whether fracking is safe, and there is little scientific evidence to fill an information gap that has made it difficult for lawmakers and the public to understand the risks.
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or email@example.com.
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