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Fracking Clears Penultimate Hurdle In North Carolina

Jeff Foster

North Carolina is now one step away from legalizing fracking. A state commission has spent the past two years writing a broad set of rules to cover how fracking will work in the state. The commission passed those rules Friday evening. WFAE’s Ben Bradford joined Duncan McFadyen to discuss.

MCFADYEN: Today’s meeting has been in the works for a long time. How did we get here?

BRADFORD: Right. State lawmakers approved fracking two years ago—if you remember, Republicans and a few Democrats overrode then-Governor Bev Perdue’s veto. It actually happened when a Democrat opposed to fracking accidentally cast the deciding vote. Each year there’s been small updates to that law but the overreaching structure has stayed the same. It tasked this commission—the Mining and Energy Commission with writing the rules for how fracking will work. They approved the first draft this summer—there was a public comment period—about 217,000 public comments—and then over the past couple of weeks they’ve been considering changes based on those comments.

MCFADYEN: Just how tough are these rules?

BRADFORD: Well, I think that depends on who you ask. Environmental groups in the state who are pretty unanimously opposed to fracking have generally said the rules are pretty tough compared to other states. I talked just a few minutes ago to someone from Environment North Carolina. She argues they’re still not enough to protect the environment. I think that’s the general philosophy  you hear from them.

That said, there are about 120 of them. It’s pretty much the A to Z for companies that want to drill in the state. How companies can apply, where, what, and how they can drill – environmental protections, permitting – how the state has to monitor and enforce those things.

There are also rules about what kind of notice needs to be given to the public, and how people can complain or petition against drilling companies and so forth.

MCFADYEN: Is there anything that’s not included?

BRADFORD: Yes. The rule that says what companies have to disclose about the mix of chemicals they pump into the ground. That’s a big one. Fracking involves pumping water mixed with industrial solvents and other chemicals into the ground to crack rock and release gas and oil. The General Assembly took it out of the commission’s hands earlier this year—they passed a law that basically says everything is public record unless company’s can prove it’s a trade secret. The rules also don’t include anything about what’s called forced pooling – which is making some landowners sell the gas under their land if their neighbors want to sell theirs.

The commission punted that one back to lawmakers. There’s also no air emission standards, since the commission says state regulators are in charge of that.

MCFADYEN: We’re one step away – what happens next?

BRADFORD: Once state lawmakers come back in January, their Rules Review Committee will vote – if they approve it, state regulators could start permitting by this Spring.