Raleigh, N.C. — A bill that would lift North Carolina’s ban on the controversial natural gas drilling practice known as “fracking” is expected to face debate on the House floor Wednesday after gaining approval from the House Finance Committee.
The committee, which voted 19-14 for the bill, did not hear any amendments, which will be saved for floor debate.
The bill left the start date for fracking up in the air after amendments passed by the House Public Utilities and Energy Committee on Tuesday. Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said fracking is expected to start in North Carolina in late 2015.
But Elizabeth Ouzts, state director of Environment North Carolina, who spoke during the public comment section of the committee meeting Wednesday, said the bill fast-tracks fracking, breaking lawmakers’ previous promises not to do so.
“This bill would weaken liability requirements for would-be drillers. It usurps local governments,” Ouzts said. “But worst of all, this bill breaks the promise that this body made two years ago.”
Under the new version of the bill, fracking, which she characterized as a dangerous practice that contaminates drinking water, could begin in the state as soon as May 2015, she said.
Newton emphasized the cautious and deliberate rule-making process.
Lawmakers examined the fiscal portions of the bill, raising questions about the low tax on gas and oil, meant as an incentive to draw drilling companies to North Carolina.
Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, said higher taxes would lead to more revenue to remedy potential problems that result from fracking.
“Tax rates have nothing to do with the perceived fears that some people have about this process,” Newton said. “It has everything to do with creating jobs.”