Senate votes to legalize gas drilling in NC

Posted June 6, 2012
Updated June 7, 2012

— The state Senate voted along party lines Wednesday to allow a controversial form of natural gas drilling in North Carolina as soon as 2014.

After the 29-19 vote, the legislation was sent to the House, which is expected to make some changes. House Republicans have said they favor a more cautious approach to drilling.

Senate Bill 820 creates a state Mineral and Energy Commission that would devise the necessary regulatory framework to manage oil and gas exploration and development, including the drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking."

The process involves drilling horizontally into underground deposits of shale rock and pumping the wells full of a high-pressure mix of water, chemicals and sand to break apart the shale and release trapped gas.

Environmentalists and residents in Piedmont counties are worried there aren't enough protections to prevent fracking from contaminating drinking water and creating pools of toxic wastewater that will be hard to clean.

Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, proposed an amendment that would delay legalized gas drilling until more study is done as to the safety of fracking. He and other Democrats said North Carolina's geology increases the risk of contamination and even small earthquakes from fracking.

"What is the rush?" Stein asked, noting that a glut of natural gas on the market has depressed market prices and that the state doesn't have as much natural gas reserves as earlier projected.

The U.S. Geological Survey released an estimate Tuesday that 1,660 billion cubic feet of gas and 83 million barrels of natural gas liquids are in the Deep River Basin under Chatham, Lee and Moore counties. State geologist Kenneth Taylor said that is enough to meet North Carolina's gas demand for more than 5½ years.

"That just reinforces the argument that there's no need to rush into this. We need to take our time and get the regulations," Will Morgan, director of government relations for the North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club, said after the Senate vote.

Lee County homeowner worries about fracking impact Lee County homeowner worries about fracking impact

Stein also called for reorganizing the proposed Mineral and Energy Commission to reduce the power of industry interests on the board, shorten the leases for drilling rights from 10 years to five years and raising the royalties that drilling companies would pay the state for the gas they extract.

Republican senators were indignant with Stein's proposal, calling it a do-nothing approach that doesn't help North Carolina.

"If we don't start now, 10 years from now, we'll be sitting here wishing we would have done something," said Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph.

Bill sponsor Sen. Bob Rucho said Stein wanted to relegate North Carolina to "second-tier economic status" by preventing the state from exploiting its energy reserves.

Fracking animation House expected to amend 'fracking' bill

Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, said that lawmakers would have to approve the regulations drafted by the commission before the state could issue any permits for gas wells. Local governments also would be allowed some control over drilling activities, he said.

"We have a clean chalkboard, and we have the opportunity for this (Mineral and Energy) Commission to consider the best (drilling) practices from across the country," he said.

Stein's amendment was voted down, as was an amendment offered by Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, to add to people to the nine-member commission to provide more local input.

Several consumer protections for landowners where drilling may occur were added last week, but Attorney General Roy Cooper said Tuesday that not all of his department's recommended protections were included. Those left out include requiring well operators to compensate landowners for all damages to their property, as well as giving landowners 30 days to get out of a signed oil or gas lease without penalty.

"We have to sometimes take chances. This country would not have been founded if we did not take some chances," said Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson.


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  • SARCASTICLES Jun 7, 2012

    I was on board with the whole idea of fracking in NC, but lately I've decided to hold off until some really important issues can be resolved. Until the frackers can be assured that there will be no regulations of any kind, no attention to facts and basic science, (or common sense) and no taxes collected from these fine patriots on their immense profits, real Americans (from "parts of America") like me can't support the drilling for natural gas in NC. ;)

  • Half Red Half Blue Jun 7, 2012

    I can't wait to be able to get flaming water out of my faucet. Run it through a pressure washer then I would have a flame thrower!

  • davidgnews Jun 7, 2012

    T Boone Pickens was pushing for 'natural gas exploration' because he was buying up water rights all along, and snake drilling at that!

  • OpenM1nd Jun 7, 2012

    Obviously no one in the senate gets their drinking water from a backyard well. Talk to anyone from rural Pennsylvania about fracking and hear what they have to say about it, their health, and their property values.

  • liskm Jun 7, 2012

    From articles read or reports heard, NC can only provide 12 DAYS supply to the country, or 5.5 yrs to the state. Is that worth the risks to our citizens? No.
    Having said that, I'd think with such a small sum available, there won't be a lot of interest here really at all. Natural Gas price decline (equals no to little profit) will kill interest in exploration.

    Helliburton is already redirecting their greedy, crooked selves.

    Read here:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-16687954

  • pbjbeach Jun 7, 2012

    REMEMBER PEOPLE THAT THE COMPANY IN CALIFORNIA OF PG & E also said that their was nothing harmful either these coporation would lie cheat an steal fire out of hell with a match in their pockets it is all only about their demands of these coporations to be left totaly to their own devises an they have an are steal fighting through their lobbyist an ownership of every state senator an house member in this state an this country to get thei way for completly deregulation of these an every industry in this country thank you

  • Vstrom Jun 7, 2012

    I wonder if I can heat my house with my well water?

  • starvingdog Jun 7, 2012

    "Let me guess, I get to pay for the Mineral and Energy Commission that will be set up to protect the interests of the oil/ gas companies." ---Kronic Complaner

    You betcha. And it's an even safer bet that they won't be limited to the regular state employee per diem amounts for hotels and meals when they come in from wherever they actually live into NC to meet...I foresee meetings at the full room rates at the Grove Park Inn with us paying for their filet mignon. Can't have oil execs rubbing elbows w/ the commoners. I'm sure they will also need to fly around the entire state in the state helicopter 'in the interest of efficiency' or some other such foolishness.

  • pbjbeach Jun 7, 2012

    This news about the nc senate giving their approval to their buddy's in the oil & gas businesses is no real suprise to me. they have been fracking over the general public an the taxpayers of this state for years an years now an they have no real concerns about the citizens of this state nor this country for all they care for is the ever incre4asing proffits of their oil an gas buddy's business bottom line . which is mearly pay back to these state senators an the nc house members for their supporting an passing this piece of legistions with no oversight protection by anyone other that the oil an gas industry's buddy's an they surely arent going to do anything to impeade nor stop these dereghualtory company's from doing anything that they so desire to do an the good of the general public be damned. as long as the citizens of this state fail to stand up to the coporate instrest an the speciall instrest groups in this stat ethey will surely continue their ways an continue to keep on frack

  • Jim Britt Jun 7, 2012

    Let me guess, I get to pay for the Mineral and Energy Commission that will be set up to protect the interests of the oil/ gas companies.