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House gives first nod to drilling, fracking in NC

Posted June 13, 2011

House lawmakers have tentatively approved the state’s first steps toward allowing offshore drilling in North Carolina.

Senate Bill 709, the Energy Jobs Act. sets out how drilling revenues and royalties would be apportioned, directs the governor to enter into a new offshore energy compact with other regional governors, and requires the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to report to lawmakers “on the commercial potential of onshore shale gas resources within the State as well as the regulatory framework necessary to develop this resource.”

The measure also rewrites the mandate of the state’s Energy Policy Council, created in 1975. It would become the Energy Jobs Council, focused on exploring and utilizing any energy resources available in the state.

To date, no research into NC’s offshore geology has suggested any oil deposits off the coast, but geologists say natural gas deposits are a possibility.

DENR would also be required to study onshore natural gas deposits that can be drawn out through hydrological “fracking,” a controversial procedure that involves forcing water into shale deposits. Deposits have been identified in counties to the west and south of the Triangle.

Still, backers of the bill argue it would help North Carolina rely less on foreign oil.

“It’s about economic growth, energy dependence, and job creation,” said Rep. Mitch Gillespie, R-McDowell, who says the bill could create “6700 new jobs once we get into the production of natural gas.” Gillespie said the measure could bring $500M a year into NC coffers.

The bill would set aside the first $500M in revenues toward an emergency response fund that would pay to clean up spills or damages caused by drilling.

Gillespie said the bill emphasizes “exploring natural resources in a pro-business-type manner. This bill is very aggressive, but it does have proper environmental protections in it. It sets a policy that we’re going to go after onshore and offshore energy.”

The House recently passed another measure sponsored by Gillespie, House Bill 242, which took a much more cautious approach to fracking.

Minority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Orange, tonight praised the earlier bill, calling it “a go-slow bill on fracking.” But he opposed S709.

“What we have here is a U-turn. It says, ‘Let’s get ready to go fracking,’ Hackney said. “We ought to be going a lot slower than this bill calls for.”

“It’s time we moved forward,” responded Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherford. “We ARE taking a U-turn,” he said. “We’re taking a U-turn back to creating jobs, creating revenue, and creating a stable, cheap fuel source.”

Some Democrats argued the measure doesn’t do enough to promote “green” alternative-energy jobs. Others argued it doesn’t adequately address problems with fracking being reported in other states, like PA, where the procedure is being blamed for ruining wells and poisoning groundwater.

Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, wasn’t buying it. “It’s time to get cracking on fracking,” he said.

Gillespie took a big step back from Blust’s statement, denying that S709 would speed up fracking.

“It’s not going to make us come down here in 2012 and put forward a bill that will allow horizontal hydrofracking. If the Senate does do that, I’ll be one of the ones up here on this floor opposing it,” Gillespie promised. “That’s not how we need to proceed.”

But Gillespie didn’t deny that the measure “does set a new direction” for state energy policy, including adding “business-minded folks” to the advisory council. “It does put it more in favor of exploring.”

The measure passed by a vote of 67-44. The final House vote is set for Tuesday. After that, it goes back to the Senate for approval of the big changes made by the House.

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  • wilfong Jun 14, 2011

    "When the fracking process takes effect, natural gas is released from shale deposits into the water. This water returns to the surface and is processed to capture the natural gas, leaving behind severely contaminated water which must be dealt with.

    There are numerous incidents across the world of leakage from retaining tanks. This leakage kills trees, poisons cattles, and has led to contamination of drinking water supplies to the point that drinking water from a faucet can be lit on fire with a match."

    Sort of and not really. The water is used to fracture the rock to "release" the gas. The contamination in the water is mostly from the chemicals used to aid in the fracturing process.

    Plants and animals dying has nothing to do with methane or being able to light methane in a water supply. Chemical spills are bad and the amount of water being used is worrisome but it is also important to separate out real issues from scare tactics.

  • Come On_Seriously Jun 14, 2011

    Really Wade?

    I wouldn't call those with thoughtful comments and common sense or professionals with degrees in chemistry, hydrology, and geology liars unless I had something more substantial than wattsupwiththat.com. Perhaps try a respectable source of information (news, scientific journal, state research) and learn about the process and components rather than call people liars based on some random guy's blog. Or perhaps you have a special insight to the practice that you didn't share with us liars before.

  • suncat Jun 14, 2011

    If fracking is so safe, why has it been banned in New York, New Jersey, in Quebec and in France?

  • hi_i_am_wade Jun 14, 2011

    I posted this on the other news story about fracking, so I'll post it here too.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/06/04/the-gasland-movie-a-fracking-shame-director-pulls-video-to-hide-inconvenient-truths/

    Fracking is safe. Anybody who says otherwise is lying.

  • redspringssean Jun 14, 2011

    With the legislature cutting DENR by at least 20% this year just who do they think will be around to report to lawmakers?

  • BIlzac Jun 14, 2011

    During the Bush/Cheney era, legislation was passed that exempted utilities taking part in fracking from many of the EPA regulations other utilities must adhere to. The was known as the Halliburton Loophole and, to my knowledge, the loophole is still open.

    At the very least, this is a process that our legislators would do well to spend MUCH more time gathering information on before yielding to the allure of easy dollars and jobs.

    Keep in mind that our current legislature is EXTREMELY business friendly. Their clear goal is to take ANY type of job, and to remove ANY type of difficulty for a business to set up shop in our state.

    I'm not a tree hugger. And I'm all for increased and new jobs. But I also want to be able to drink the water from my tap without being afraid of it igniting. And I sure don't want another reason to be worried about contracting cancer.

  • BIlzac Jun 14, 2011

    The fracking process is a highly controversial one. It does not take much searching to find numerous examples of contamination that have occured in areas that have become rife with fracking wells.

    This process injects million of gallons of water, at extremely high pressure, through wells drilled below the water aquifer. These millions of gallons of water are infused with around 500 chemicals to aid in the fracking process. Some of these chemicals are known carcinogens.

    When the fracking process takes effect, natural gas is released from shale deposits into the water. This water returns to the surface and is processed to capture the natural gas, leaving behind severely contaminated water which must be dealt with.

    There are numerous incidents across the world of leakage from retaining tanks. This leakage kills trees, poisons cattles, and has led to contamination of drinking water supplies to the point that drinking water from a faucet can be lit on fire with a match.