EDITORIAL: With fracking passed, now comes the hard part

May. 31, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

For better or worse, the process of hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, has cleared both houses of the General Assembly. As of Friday, the bill was bound for Gov. Pat McCrory to be signed into law.

Reactions predictably have been divided, with foes calling the passage rash and irresponsible, and advocates saying that the move is a show of good faith by the state.

As one opponent noted, the rules and regulations drafted by the Mining and Energy Commission have yet to be approved. Citizens will get their say during a public comment period running through Sept. 15. Permits could become available as soon as next summer — and our own state Rep. Mike Stone expressed confidence that fracking would be happening in North Carolina sometime in 2015.

Proponents have explained that by taking this action now, the oil and gas industry will see that North Carolina is taking this process, and its economic potential, seriously.

It just feels very premature to us to go ahead and green light this controversial practice before approving the rules that will regulate it. Concerns about possible impact to air and water quality are far from fully resolved.

In fairness, for some, they may never be — and the debate can’t continue indefinitely. There’s a fine line between dragging our feet on an activity that could be a boon for our area, resulting in prosperity and desperately needed jobs, and proceeding conscientiously.

The Mining and Energy Commission, on which Lee County is well represented, has heard all manner of comments over the many months it has weighed and researched this issue. Its members have shaped, tweaked and refined its 120 draft rules accordingly. Neither the most zealous oil and gas industry advocate, nor the most ardent environmentalist, are likely to be totally satisfied with the result — nor should they be if the commission has fulfilled its function.

Yes, we would like to see the regulatory framework in place prior to the first permit. However, we grant that the commission has considered this matter carefully — and at some point intention must translate to action.

Having said that, we share the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League’s concern about the potential loss of an air monitor in Lee County — which is threatened by legislation allowing for removal of any monitor not required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. As drilling begins in earnest, we need more means to gauge potential impacts to the environment — not fewer.

At the outset, leaders recognized an opportunity to craft the best set of fracking rules in the nation — and the advantage they had in being guided by others’ successes and missteps. Whether or nor they’ve done so depends on the person asked.

Even as the process is legalized, let’s agree to continue the debate — and allow our policies to evolve as technology advances, our knowledge grows, and we learn from our own mistakes.

The work to implement this process as safely and effectively as possible is far from over with the latest developments. In fact, it is just beginning.