Fast-track 'fracking' bill moves quickly

Posted May 20, 2014

Fracking site, natural gas drilling well

— A bill that would clear the way for natural gas drilling in North Carolina garnered quick approval from two key Senate committees Tuesday, moving swiftly through a process that would normally take two days or more. 

"To use words to suggest that this has been rushed is just unfounded," Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, told the Senate Commerce Committee. "We've been working on this for four years."

Colloquially known as "fracking," hydraulic fracturing uses a combination of methods, including horizontal drilling and the use of controlled explosives to extract natural gas from shale rock.

The process has been used in several oil-rich states for decades, and it has allowed for gas explorations in states like New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio that are not typically thought of as energy producers. Lawmakers say North Carolina should be next so it can reap the rewards that come with energy production.

"North Carolina needs the jobs, and America needs the energy," Newton said.

But environmental watchdogs worry that fracking could foul the state's drinking water and bring with it other environmental hazards, from stress on the state's roads to hazards associated with the cleanup of industrial accidents. 

"We can't have fracking in this state and protect our water quality," said Elizabeth Ouzts, director for Environment North Carolina.

Proponents of the bill, including Newton and Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, said it contains environmental safeguards. For example, it would not allow wastewater from fracking to be injected into the ground anywhere in North Carolina. That possibility raised the hackles of people in eastern North Carolina, who would not be near any of the drilling but could have received the waste.

The bill also requires that companies report any chemicals used in the drilling process. That list would be held confidentially by the state in case of emergency. However, the measure makes inappropriately revealing those chemical trade secretes a felony. 

Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, communications director for the North Carolina Sierra Club, said it was a good idea for the state to hold on to the chemical list.

"That’s a step forward," he said. "But why would unauthorized disclosure of chemicals used in fracking, which can be harmful to human health, be treated as a criminal act, when disclosure of other trade secrets are treated as a civil matter?"

The measure also speeds up the process for approving new rules to govern the industry. If the state Mining and Energy Commission proceeds at the typical pace for rule approval, fracking would be able to begin in the summer of 2016. 

The Newton-Rucho bill, however, grants gas exploration rules several exemptions from the normal rule-making procedures so that permits for drilling could be issued in the summer of 2015.

"It goes back on a promise the 2012 legislature made," Ouzts said, pointing to a 2-year-old law that would have required rules to be fully in place before lawmakers officially lifted the moratorium. This new bill sets a time certain when drilling would begin, despite rules not being fully in place.

"It prematurely lifts the moratorium," Ouzts said. 

Newton said that fracking was first discussed during former Gov. Bev Perdue's administration and that the Mining and Energy Commission has been in the process of developing rules for three years.

"It's time for us to move on," he said. 

Lawmakers moved the measure through both the Commerce and Finance committees Tuesday. That's atypical, although not unheard of. However, such procedures are more typically used toward the end of session.

Rucho said the unusual move was taken as part of an overall effort to keep this summer's "short" session on schedule. 

After the Commerce Committee discussed many of the environmental issues with fracking, lawmakers on the Finance Committee discussed issues related to how revenue might be collected by the state and counties.

One outstanding question has to do with forced pooling, the practice of allowing companies to extract gas from someone's land without permission if a majority of surrounding landowners approve it. Although forced pooling is often seen as necessary for allowing drilling to go forward despite a few holdouts, it does fly in the face of property rights views held by many in the legislature. The bill assigns that question to a study. 

The bill now moves on to the full Senate for approval. It would then go to the House for consideration.

Gov. Pat McCrory has often named lifting the state's drilling moratorium as one of the measures he was most disappointed in not being able to sign during the 2013 session.


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  • thinkfirsttypelater May 21, 2014

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    Not only that, if a company comes on private property and engages in seismic testing (which involves drilling holes and setting off explosives) without permission from the property owner, it's only a class 1 misdemeanor.

  • Jeremy Gilchrist May 21, 2014
    user avatar

    Forced Pooling doesn't sound like the freedom conservatives claim to love. Oh, and making it a felony to disclose the chemicals used tells you all you need to know.

  • Bob Bruck May 21, 2014
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    Fracking provides none of these and destroys the environment. Sounds like a great plan to me.

  • rcherry132004 May 21, 2014

    There is more than enough evidence of people with toxins in their water supply, serious health problems from the air, and water that CATCHES FIRE!!! You don't have to believe any movie, you just have to look up the facts. People are suing these companies over what has happened to them. They are being paid off, or ignored, because they can buy their way out of problems and the legislators in these states are letting them do whatever they want with no repercussions. I suppose it's OK because it doesn't affect you, but what about your children, or theirs, or theirs?

  • goldenosprey May 21, 2014

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    How about the faces of the Organization of Water Exporting Countries when our groundwater becomes a toxic stew of undisclosed chemicals?

    The fly by nite drillers will move in, hire out of state workers, run off with profits and NC taxpayers will be paying to relocate and clean it up for decades. This is how much the NC GOP regards its citizens.

  • Rebelyell55 May 21, 2014

    This fast tracking is taking place in hopes that future voters will forget about it. Also, it's not too late to stop this action. But if it's not stopped, then more power goes to the gas companies and to stop it later will cost the tax payers hugh amounts of money. Other states are reporting concerns, even Texas where it started several years ago. People just don't seem to understand where this water is going to come from to pump down these wells. It'll come from our drinking water supply. Just like coal ash, this waste water will have to be stored someplace. Some have it right, leave it there , wait for 5 to 10 years when it worth it. Don't issue any permits. Let see what long term effect other states are having. The officals in France visited some of these places in the US and since then has ban Fracking in France. My rep. I voted for is stupid and won't stop this. Come Nov. we can try and get some of them out.

  • Terry Watts May 21, 2014
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    Your personal property mean NOTHING to the GOP. You have NO say in what happens to your land or what is in the ground there. The GOP puppet-masters will suck YOUR oil out of YOUR land and leave you with poisoned water. PROFIT, BABY! PROFIT!

  • Terry Watts May 21, 2014
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    But you'll believe an Oil Executive when they tell you that pumping millions of gallons of toxic liquid into the ground is perfectly safe...

  • Itsmyopinion67 May 21, 2014

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    Frack that, man!

  • casadelrichman May 21, 2014

    Every state that approves fracking brings us one step closer to energy independence. Love to see OPEC's face when that happens.