Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday signed legislation that would speed up the start of natural gas drilling in North Carolina.
In a signing ceremony inside an engineering building on North Carolina State University's Centennial Campus, McCrory said the Energy Modernization Act will re-energize rural areas, create high-tech jobs and will help the U.S. become more energy independent.
Lawmakers approved the fast-track bill last week, allowing drilling permits to be issued 60 days after the state Mining and Energy Commission finalizes rules for the industry, despite earlier promises that lawmakers would have to review and approve the rules before a statewide moratorium on drilling could be lifted.
Critics have said the drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," could damage nearby water supplies and will force some people to allow drilling on their property without their permission. City officials from across North Carolina also are upset that the measure prohibits them from setting up local zoning requirements for any drilling operations.
McCrory said it's time for North Carolina to get off the sidelines and move forward in energy production.
"Isn't it amazing? We have a lot of critics of this, but at the same time, there are critics that are taking natural gas from other areas and using that," he said. "So, I think we're rather hypocritical in criticizing gas exploration while using gas from other states, and we're going to borrow the best practices from the states, from lessons learned in the past 20 years from this business."
Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources John Skvarla cited issues with well casings, methane leaks and spills as some of the lessons North Carolina picked up elsewhere and will include in its regulations.
Environmentalists said tougher rules won't prevent spills or other potential disaster.
"We've learned from all the mistakes, but the mistakes are still happening every day," said Therese Vick of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League.
Vick and others say they worry the law is in place before any regulations are.
"The bill as it was passed is awful," she said. "The package that is available for review has a lot of big holes in it."
McCrory said signing the bill was a culmination of five years of debate and review and that getting North Carolina into drilling didn't happen overnight.