Bill passage puts offshore drilling, 'fracking' one step closer

Posted June 14, 2011 8:40 p.m. EDT
Updated June 14, 2011 11:06 p.m. EDT

The North Carolina House of Representatives voted Tuesday in favor of the Energy Jobs Act, a bill that put the state one step closer to allowing two controversial sources of alternative energy. Supporters of the bill say exploration for natural gas underground, both on land and at sea, would create jobs and reduce dependence on foreign oil. But both processes have opponents, particularly those who worry about possible damage to the environment. 

During the debate, three protesters were removed from the chamber. One shouted, "You just signed the death warrant for the state of North Carolina," before adding an expletive. 

General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver says the three were likely to be arrested, though charges were not immediately determined.

Senate Bill 709, the Energy Jobs Act, does not explicitly allow either offshore drilling or hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"), but it represents the state’s first steps toward both.

The bill 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,'" Rep. John Blust (R-Guilford) said Monday in support of the bill.

Fracking, which uses pressure from liquid to split rock and release natural gas, has been a subject of debate nationwide. In some states, it is in widespread use and has resulted in new sources of energy, jobs and profits for landowners. In others, lawmakers are considering a ban on the process because of worries that the chemicals used in the liquid could leak into and contaminate groundwater.

The Senate is expected to sign off on the bill Wednesday and send it to the governor for her signature.