NC Law to Legalize (and Encourage) Fracking Advances

In contrast to closed-minded Vermont (see this MDN story), North Carolina and its Democrat governor are also considering adopting new legislation with regard to hydraulic fracturing—but North Carolina’s legislation would make fracking legal, not ban it.

The state’s debate over fracking resumed Wednesday with the advance of a bill that would legalize the natural gas mining method within two years in this state, giving agency officials until 2014 to come up with provisions to protect the public health and the environment.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County, is controversial even within the Republican-dominated legislature. It will compete for votes against a more moderate approach expected from Sen. Mitch Gillespie, a McDowell County Republican who favors greater public safeguards.

The fracking legislation was recommended Wednesday by the Legislative Research Commission to be introduced in the state legislature for a vote this summer. After the commission’s recommendation, Rucho assured that his bill could be modified to exceed the 2014 deadline by a year, if necessary, to create regulations to safely govern fracking in this state.

“You know the King James Bible?” Rucho said, spreading his thumb and index finger to indicate the Scripture’s thickness. “The regulations are going to be nine books high.”

Rucho has said that comprehensive energy legislation is important for North Carolina’s economy and that fracking can be done in an environmentally responsible way.

In recent months Gov. Bev Perdue has come out in favor of fracking, as has the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, both with the caveat that strict regulations would be needed to limit well shaft blowouts, chemical spills, drinking water contamination and other risks that have been the subject of complaints and agency fines in other states.

DENR recently issued a 484-page report on fracking with hundreds of recommendations, among them that energy companies disclose the chemicals they inject into wells.

Rucho’s bill would create a new agency, the N.C. Oil and Gas Board, to oversee fracking and write regulations.

As written, his bill would prohibit local city or county governments from passing ordinances that would ban fracking. Such ordinances in other states have resulted in lawsuits between energy companies and local governments.*

*Charlotte (NC) Observer (May 17, 2012) – Controversial fracking bill advances