Raleigh, N.C. — Months after she vetoed a bill that would have allowed test drilling for natural gas in central North Carolina, Gov. Beverly Perdue said Wednesday that she believes drilling can be done safely in the state.
Perdue recently traveled to Pennsylvania for an industry-sponsored tour of large-scale natural gas drilling operations.
"It's jobs. It's a fuel source produced in this country, and it's something that can help America and North Carolina be globally competitive," the governor said.
A WRAL News crew visited Pennsylvania last fall to examine the debate over a controversial method of gas drilling known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." The process involves pumping a mix of water and chemicals into a well to break apart deposits of underground shale and release natural gas.
Residents told WRAL News of the economic boon fracking brings, as well as the traffic and environmental worries it creates.
Perdue said that, based on what she saw on her trip, she believes that North Carolina could benefit from the best drilling practices. It makes sense to tap local energy sources as long as regulations are in place, she said.
"From what I saw, fracking can be done safely if you regulate it and put fees in place to have inspectors on the ground," she said. "I think the challenge for us will be to determine the capacity of our supply and whether the folks who live in this community are willing to move forward."
A recent study commissioned by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources found that North Carolina hasn't developed policies and procedures in anticipation of regulating oil and gas exploration and production activities.
Lawmakers ordered DENR last year to study energy exploration in North Carolina, including fracking. DENR officials are expected to release a draft report of their findings in the next few days.
The Sierra Club decried Perdue's statements, saying she should have waited for DENR's report before expressing support for fracking.
"There are serious concerns about what fracking could mean for our air and water. The governor should let her own departmental experts complete their study before rushing into a decision with such vast implications," Molly Diggins, state director of the North Carolina Sierra Club, said in a statement.
Perdue noted that natural gas prices are so low that companies are less likely to rush to states like North Carolina because it's not a profitable investment for them.