State Agency Requests More Funding on Fracking
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) does not have the personnel or money to pursue natural gas development in the state properly without hurting existing programs, according to a letter to legislative leaders.
Department Secretary Dee Freeman sent the letter last week to Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis, noting that the hydraulic fracturing bill approved by the House sets an ambitious schedule for developing regulations for the controversial method of extracting natural gas.
“But neither the House budget as adopted nor the Senate budget as initially proposed includes any new resources to do the work required under the bill,” Freeman wrote. “The proposed state budgets produced by the House and Senate each require (NCDENR) to take resources from existing programs to fund this new work.
“If we do that, both delivery of those existing permitting and compliance programs and the work required to support this new program will suffer.”
Freeman noted that NCDENR — like other state agencies — has experienced “significant budget cuts” as the General Assembly has responded to the reduction in state revenues in the wake of the economic downturn.
“Since 2009, DENR’s budget has been reduced by approximately 40 percent. That figure does not include transfers of programs from DENR to other departments of state government,” he said. “Without additional re-sources, our department will not be able to provide the kind of customer service and compliance assistance that members of the General Assembly rightly expect of our existing programs and also take on the substantial new workload associated with research and development of standards for hydraulic fracturing.”
State Rep. Jamie Boles, a Republican who represents most of Moore County, voted for the bill. But Boles said he would not comment on Freeman’s letter until the General Assembly approves the 2012-2013 state budget.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Boles said, after being asked when that approval might come.
NCDENR issued a study last month saying the production of natural gas by means of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking,” can only be done safely in North Carolina if the state adopts adequate safeguards in the form of regulatory standards specifically adapted to conditions in the state and invests sufficient resources in compliance and enforcement.
The study noted that the development of appropriate standards would require additional information on North Carolina’s geology and hydrogeology to identify conditions under which hydraulic fracturing can be done without putting the state’s water resources at risk.
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.
Fracking is important 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 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.
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or tnatt@the- pilot.com.
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