Raleigh, N.C. — An environmental group said Thursday that the state needs to develop and enforce air quality rules for natural gas drilling sites.
The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League delivered a five-page letter to the newly appointed Environmental Management Commission, asking commissioners to order the state Division of Air Quality to develop rules to monitor and control air emissions from drilling wells, waste containment facilities and all equipment associated with gas production.
"It's been really unclear what the Division of Air Quality is going to do, and the time is approaching when the other rule sets are being completed," said Therese Vick, community organization for the environmental group. "They seem to think whatever they have now is sufficient, but we don't agree."
The state Mining and Energy Commission has been meeting for months drafting regulations for gas drilling, including a controversial process known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." The rules are supposed to be completed by next fall and presented to lawmakers for final approval before drilling permits can be issued.
Fracking involves drilling horizontally into underground shale deposits and using a high-pressure mix of water, chemicals and sand to break apart the rock and release trapped natural gas.
The letter presented to EMC Chairman Benne Hutson cites studies by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and researchers that found toxins such as benzene and volatile organic compounds in the air near fracking wells in other states.
"We want them to protect us now, and we want guarantees," said Denise Lee, a resident of Anson County, which is part of a swath of central North Carolina the contains underground shale.
Hutson said he understands the concerns and hasn't ruled anything out.
"We'll work with them and any other group on things within our jurisdiction in that regard," he said.
Sheila Holman, director of the Division of Air Quality, said federal rules that regulate the oil and gas industry are on the books, and past studies don't account for emissions standards that will go into effect in 2015.
"We continue to evaluate whether the existing rules are sufficient for regulating this industry," Holman said.
Debbie Hall's property in Lee County sits atop a potential drilling site. Like other demonstrators, she said she doesn't trust the state's regulators.
"I don't feel looked out for. Would you feel looked out for if you lived right there?" Hall said. "I'd like for them to put us, to put our best interest at heart and make rules that'll be so stringent."