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NC Legislature Debating Fracking Bill

The North Carolina House this week is expected to take up legislation that would allow the state to issue permits for fracking of oil and gas next year.

The state legislature has tried each of the last two years to pass legislation to allow fracking. The bill approved in the state Senate last week would allow the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to issue permits starting July 1st, 2015. Mecklenburg county Republican Sen. Bob Rucho sponsored the measure. He says it's important to energy companies that the state set a timeline.

“What this does is it establishes a date certain so that many of the businesses or industries that are looking to come to North Carolina will know how to plan for the future,” Rucho says.

Environmental groups are opposed to the practice. They say the chemicals companies use in in fracking can contaminate groundwater. And they warn the bill could allow fracking to start before state rules are formally in place, although they acknowledge they’re among the most stringent in the country. But Jesse Coleman of Greenpeace says the rules wouldn’t require companies to publicly disclose the chemicals in their fracking fluid.

"If a company decides that it’s important to keep a chemical secret," he says, "whether or not it’s harmful, they can just keep that chemical secret."

The state established a Mining and Energy Commission in 2012 to set up rules for fracking. That panel has come up with 120 rules that will come up for public comment later this year. Commission chair Jim Womack says it won't take that long to put the rules in place.