Fracking bill OK'd by NC Senate; House next stop
Legislation that would officially end North Carolina's moratorium on fracking next summer has cleared the state Senate after some additional changes that backers say will improve safety and any potential cleanup.
The Senate voted 35-12 Thursday for the measure that seeks to move the regulatory process for hydraulic fracturing toward its conclusion. The legislation says permits could be issued starting July 1, 2015. A state commission already has drafted regulations to govern the industry, but critics say they aren't good enough and more work is needed.
Senators agreed to amendments setting minimum bonding requirements for drillers and reducing the penalty for the unauthorized disclosure of chemicals used by companies in the fracking process. The previous proposed felony is now a misdemeanor.
The measure heads next to the House.
Decrying the move, Therese Vick, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League community organizer, said, “I think it’s wrong-headed.” The legislature promised that the moratorium would not be lifted "until citizens had their say," she added, but the public hearings on the Mining and Energy’s proposed fracking regulations will be held this summer.
"It’s very premature and irresponsible,” Vick said. "It's not respectful of the communities that are going to be faced with the prospect of oil and gas development.”
Sanford City Councilman Charles Taylor, who sits on the commission, deemed the legislation “a very aggressive approach.” However, “We're getting a good balance in representing not only the business community, but the environmental community.”
Taylor noted that the bill contains a change in the area in which drinking water will be tested before and after gas drilling, from 5,000 feet from the gas well, to a proposed distance of one-half mile.
“It's still going to be the longest distance in the nation,” he said, adding, “We've got to be balanced; we've got one shot at this, and we can learn from the mistakes of others.The chemical disclosure provision “is strong,” Taylor said, “but I think it sends a message that we are very protective of trade secrets."
Overall, Taylor said, the 120 rules drafted to govern fracking “is a pretty solid set.” Between now and June 5, he added, the committee will make sure the rules are consistent with the Senate bill.
“I will say this, we've put in a considerable amount of time working through these issues,” Taylor said. “At some point, you have to move forward. We feel like we've done a good job on our end.
‘I appreciate the input from citizens, and I think the body of our work truly reflects the contribution of everyone's input.”
Referring to the chemical disclosure portion of the bill, state Rep. Mike Stone (R-Lee) said state and local emergency personnel, hospitals and doctors will have immediate access to the exact formula in the case of an accident. He also mentioned a safeguard under which drillers with a poor track record elsewhere would be denied a permit in North Carolina.
“I think this is over three years of hard work; there's a lot of good legislation in there, and there’s more to come.” he said.
According to the legislator, “We've put an emphasis on protecting land, water and air," and the bill will continue to evolve as necessary with changes in technology and other developments.
“I am confident by sometime in 2015, we will be drilling in North Carolina,” Stone said.
Herald News Editor Jennifer Gentile contributed to this report.