NC takes first steps toward offshore drilling, 'fracking'

Posted June 13, 2011 10:24 p.m. EDT
Updated June 14, 2011 8:52 a.m. EDT

North Carolina lawmakers on Monday tentatively approved a bill that would push the state toward alternative sources of energy and, sponsors say, create jobs in the process.

Senate Bill 709, the Energy Jobs Act, is designed to encourage energy exploration off the North Carolina coast and study inland opportunities, a move backers say would reduce North Carolina's reliance on foreign oil. It also represents the state’s first steps toward allowing offshore drilling and the controversial process of separating natural gas from rock known as "hydrofracking" or just "fracking."

Opponents worry the bill has moved too quickly and ignores environmental concerns and diminishes renewable energy efforts.

The House gave tentative approval 67-44 to the bill which directs the governor to enter a compact with the governors of South Carolina and Virginia to develop a strategy to get the federal government to hear offshore exploration permits and proposals.

The governors also would lobby Congress so the states can get natural gas or oil royalties.

Gov. Bev Perdue and lawmakers also would get a report by next year about the commercial potential for inland natural gas production through "fracking." 

"I think it's time to get crackin' on frackin,'" said Rep. John Blust (R-Guilford) in support of the bill.

The House recently passed another measure sponsored by Rep. Mitch Gillespie (R-McDowell), House Bill 242, which took a much more cautious approach to fracking. 

The final House vote is set for Tuesday. WRAL.com will stream the debate live beginning at 3 p.m. After that, it goes back to the Senate for approval of the big changes made by the House.