North Carolina lawmakers are considering allowing a drilling method called "fracking" to happen here. The state's Department of Environment and Natural Resources said in a report this week fracking could be done safely here, with the right regulations in place.
The state's attorney general says landowners and homebuyers would need protection, too. Hydraulic fracturing - or fracking - involves forcing a high-pressure mix of water and chemicals underground to release natural gas trapped in shale rock. The environmental effects of fracking are the subject of ongoing debate.
Attorney General Roy Cooper believes fracking would also be a minefield for property owners in North Carolina, "because a lot of times the oil and gas companies are going to know so much more about the situation, and the landowners may not know (much)." If state lawmakers agree to allow fracking in North Carolina, Cooper wants to make sure "there are proper disclosures, proper information and proper protections for consumers."
For example, Cooper says landowners should get 30 days to review the terms of a drilling lease and be able to cancel it without penalty. Landowners may not realize that allowing fracking on their property could violate the terms of a mortgage and make refinancing difficult. Cooper thinks oil and gas companies should have to get permission from a landowner's bank before pursuing a mineral rights lease.
He also wants to require gas well operators to compensate landowners for damages to property and water supplies. "Our laws really aren't geared to this type of exploration into our property," says Cooper. "It's important that North Carolina not deal with it after-the-fact."
The reason North Carolina's laws aren't set up to regulate fracking is because there's no oil and gas exploration happening here. After months of study, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources has determined the state's likeliest fracking spot would be a shale rock formation primarily in Moore, Lee and Chatham Counties in the central part of the state.
But NCDENR assistant secretary for environment Robin Smith says we don't know much about the natural gas that companies might find if they drilled there. "The question is, 'Is there enough and is it of high enough quality to actually attract a commercial industry?'" says Smith. The study from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources concludes that if fracking does come to North Carolina, it probably won't be for a couple of decades. The state is not on the natural gas industry's list of priority regions for fracking through 2035.