House approves gas drilling in NC

Posted June 14, 2012

— After a three-hour debate Thursday, the state House approved legalizing natural gas exploration in North Carolina, including a drilling method that environmentalists say could contaminate water supplies.

The House voted 66-43 for Senate Bill 820, which directs several state agencies to devise drilling regulations by October 2014, when the first permits could be offered.

The bill returns to the Senate, which approved it last week mainly along party lines, for a final vote to concur with changes adopted by the House before heading to Gov. Beverly Perdue's desk.

Sen. Robert Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, who sponsored the bill, has said he is on board with the House changes, and the measure is expected to easily win final approval.

The Republican-led House beat back several amendments by Democratic lawmakers seeking to slow down the process, which House Minority Leader Joe Hackney said would cause "social disruption" in rural Chatham, Lee and Moore counties, where the greatest pocket of natural gas lies.

The Democrats expressed concern over hydraulic fracturing, which involves drilling horizontally into underground deposits of shale rock and injecting a high-pressure mix of chemicals, water and sand into the well to break apart the shale and free trapped natural gas.

They cited studies showing environmental problems in other states where the process, commonly referred to as "fracking," has been going on for years.

Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, said that he doesn't drink the water at his in-laws' home in rural Pennsylvania and doesn't like showering or brushing his teeth because the water has been tainted by nearby gas wells.

"It's not worth it," Jackson said of fracking.

Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, called for more study of the environmental impact of fracking before legalizing it in North Carolina, but her amendment failed.

"We're talking about dramatically changing our landscape," Harrison said. "We possibly have the potential for an economic boom, but there's no need to rush into it."

Hackney, D-Orange, agreed, noting that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has already warned lawmakers it does not have the staff or the money to complete a sweeping study of the potential impacts of fracking over the next seven months, as the measure requires.

"Folks, this really makes no sense," Hackney said. "For a state with no experience in this area to try to put all this together by January 1, 2013? It makes no sense at all."

But Republican supporters of the bill said Democrats were simply trying to delay the process. 

Rep. Mitch Gillespie, R-McDowell, noted that researchers suggested drilling for gas in central North Carolina as far back as 1927 and that it was time for the state to start producing energy.

"We've lost decades," said Gillespie, who earlier called for a slower approach but said he had ironed out his differences with the Senate proposal. "A lot of us feel this has gone on long enough."

Republicans noted that fracking would come back before the General Assembly in a couple of years when final regulations are drafted.

"This is in no way a permit that any gas company is coming into this state starting to drill. We will have the last say and the final vote on this after the study is done," said Rep. Jamie Boles, R-Moore.

"If you want to vote no, vote no 2½ years from now," Gillespie said.

Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, said, however, that the door to drilling in North Carolina will never close once it's been opened.

"We all know how it works. It's not going away," Martin said. "This bill takes us too fast down an uncertain road."

Gillespie called the proposal the strongest fracking bill in the nation, noting that it includes extensive consumer protections like giving property owners three days to cancel any deal to sell mineral rights to their land and written disclosures about the impact such sales could have on mortgages. Drilling companies also would have to disclose the chemicals they use to state regulators.

The House bill also replaces oil and gas developers on the state commission with local governmental officials and a representative of a publicly traded natural gas company.

Under the proposal, DENR and the Mining Commission would be required to complete their studies by the beginning of 2013, and rules would have to be written and approved by October 2014. 

The Environmental Defense Fund called those deadlines "arbitrary and irresponsible."  

"State agencies are being forced to write regulations in the dark,” Jane Preyer, director of the group's Southeast office, said in a statement. “North Carolina must not write regulations without facts on impacts to communities, the environment and public health. ... It makes no sense for the legislature to race this fast on such a big decision for the state."

Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, broke ranks with his fellow Republicans, saying the rush to drill puts the cart before the horse and has polarized the state. Another Republican, Bryan Holloway, also voted against the measure. Commissioners in his Stokes County district have taken a strong position opposing fracking.

Two Democrats voted in favor of the proposal: Reps. Kelly Alexander and Rodney Moore, both from Mecklenburg County. 


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  • geosol Jun 15, 2012

    Try not to worry, good people of our great state. There is not enough gas to make this anywhere close to worthwhile and this will be the most expensive area in the country to frack due to the geologic conditions here. Dept. of Commerce estimates that gas would have to rise to over $7/tcf to make this economic, and that was based on the old, inflated estimate and not the new USGS numbers. This is just an ignorant hyperpartisan farce being foisted on us by the REPUBLICAN party. They do not care about the average native North Carolinian or the environment. Ideology trumps common sense in right wing world these days. Shameful.

  • scarlett2 Jun 15, 2012

    Why doesn't the state let the citizens vote on this issue? After all, we are the ones who will be living with the consequences of the environmental pollution. I do not trust government officials to vote on anything, they usually have their own personal agenda.

  • Deep Thought Jun 15, 2012

    Is anyone that voted FOR this legislation willing to have it done in their yard? Their neighborhood? Near their water supply? If the answer is no, then you really messed up on Thursday and just want everybody else to suffer the effects.

  • GravyPig Jun 15, 2012

    "Great news. I am sure the libs will cry wolf if one ounce of this so-called dangerous fracking fluid hits the ground."

    So-called dangerous fracking fluid? Man are you out of touch with this issue. Sure the amount of these chemicals in a gallon of water are not at dangerous levels, but when you truck them in by the tanker load to mix with the several hundred thousand gallons of water they use, it is a danger.

    But mostly, it's the dangerous fracking fluid they pump INTO the ground. Really, do some research.

  • GravyPig Jun 15, 2012

    "It's always amazing to me to hear the folks gripe about drilling. But they think it's okay for the rest of the world to drill."

    YOu don't get it, do you. We don't want the environmental disaster that is fracking. Do we have a leg to stand on in PA or OK, or Texas where this stuff is already going on? No. So when it gets to our "neck of the woods", we don't want it to happen. If we are going to drill, it needs to be environmentally responsible. There needs to be accountability.

    From your statement, it sounds like you need to do more research on this topic.

  • smegma Jun 15, 2012

    is anyone surprised

  • GravyPig Jun 15, 2012

    "Just follow the money to our little right wing REPUBLICAN legislators that are so eager to ram this down the good people of North Carolina's throats." - geosol

    Dude, I'm normally with you, but read the article. It's not just the Republicans. Sure it's most of them, but to strictly blame just them is incorrect.

  • bigal02282 Jun 15, 2012

    Jobs? Prosperity? Never proven any association with dangerous chemicals? Been accident Free since 1947? Doesn't contaminate groundwater? All the folks who get sick around these wells are just insane? It's a vast Liberal conspiracy? Prove ANY of those statements please. Okay, I'll make it simple. No work involved (as if you would know what THAT feels like).. Those statements and many others are ALL available on Koch supported "consumer sites" and "citizen action committee" sites. But they are about the ONLY places besides from the mouths of the right wing drones that blindly follow the Koch around. If you love Koch so much, at least you can quote them directly rather than pretend that it's your own.

  • piene2 Jun 15, 2012

    "Here are the voting results: Dems: YES 2 NO 41 Repubs: YES 64 NO 2
    Draw your own conclusions."
    OK...the conclusion is that the republicans are actually trying to help the people of this state,
    Gunny the Racist"

    Into their coffins at an early age.

  • reilteam Jun 15, 2012

    "OK...the conclusion is that the republicans are actually trying to help the people of this state, while the democrats are hoping to keep you all on the government payroll, and buying your votes with taxpayer money. If you don't want to work, and like the poor lifestyle the government will provide you, keep voting democrat."

    Canned response 5643 from the Limbaugh/Hannity playbook. With this kind of "help" from the Tea GOParty who needs Dr. Kevorkian?