Raleigh, N.C. — The state Senate voted 35-12 Thursday to send a measure that would lift the state's ban on a natural gas drilling process known as "fracking" next summer as opponents raised water quality concerns.
Although laws passed during prior sessions had paved the way for fracking, this bill would speed up approvals. Under current law, the soonest a permit could be issued would likely have been sometime in 2016. The measure that passed the Senate would require the state to start issuing permits on July 1, 2015, even if some rules governing the process are not fully in place.
"If this is where we ought to go, we ought to let the experts take us there in a cautious way," said Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake.
Senators did make some changes to the bill before sending the measure on to the House. On of those changes required that drillers post a $1 million bond in case their drilling operation causes damage.
Another change lowers the penalties for state workers who inappropriately reveal trade secrets related to fracking chemicals. Under the bill, drilling companies have to turn over a list of chemicals used in the process to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The original draft of a bill would have made unlawfully disclosing those chemicals a felony.
Environmental groups worried that threat of a felony conviction could inhibit release of information in case of an emergency, such as a spill.
An amendment offered by Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, lowered that offense to a misdemeanor, a lower level of crime that has fewer long-term ramifications for a conviction. That change passed 47-0.