Raleigh, N.C. — A spokesman for Gov. Bev Perdue said Friday that the governor hasn't yet taken a position on a bill that legalizes fracking approved Thursday in the state House.
The Senate is expected to give final approval on Tuesday, and it could be on Perdue's desk by late next week.
If the governor signs the bill, it would make way for the process of setting up regulations for fracking – a controversial drilling process that extracts natural gas trapped in shale rock underground.
Actual drilling would likely begin by October 2014.
Bill supporters say legalizing fracking will help the state harvest domestic energy and create new jobs.
Environmentalists worry the drilling has not been thoroughly studied and could lead to groundwater contamination, earthquakes and flammable drinking water.
They are hoping Perdue will veto the bill.
Will Morgan, director of government relations for the North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club, says the proposal moves too quickly and that there is no reason to rush into a practice that could damage the state’s water supply.
"The bill sponsors have said repeatedly that they want to create the best regulatory program in the country," Morgan said. "Unfortunately, they're not giving the state agencies enough time or resources to ensure that they can write an adequate regulatory system."
The proposal in the General Assembly requires the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to complete several major studies on fracking in less than seven months, but provides no funding.
The department's budget has been cut by 40 percent over the past two years, and officials there say they might not make the deadline.
Supporters of the measure say they might add additional funding to the budget to pay for more personnel. They're also talking with the oil and gas industry about funding some of those positions.
Last year, Perdue vetoed a bill that would have done many of the same things.
Republican legislative leaders haven't been able to muster the votes needed to override that veto.
The latest proposal contains more environmental and consumer protections, but it's unclear whether it will fare any better.