North Carolina and fracking

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In June, 2012, the state Senate and House approved the legalization of fracking in North Carolina,[1] and overrode a veto by Gov. Bev Perdue.[2][3]

The legalization of fracking would roll back state laws dating back to 1945 that prohibit horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, the two main components of producing natural gas from prehistoric shale rock formations.[4]

Introduction

Geologists have estimated a 40-year supply concentrated around Lee, Chatham, and Moore counties in the state, but the actual reserve could be smaller; some say test wells would help assess.[5]

On March 16, 2012, state environmental regulators released a study concluding that fracking could be used safely in North Carolina if lawmakers adopt the right precautions. It listed a little over a dozen recommendations before authorizing the drilling method, including full disclosure of chemicals used to regulators; banning the use of diesel fuel; collecting data on groundwater, surface water and air quality before wells in an area are drilled; and limiting how much local water oil and gas companies can use. Release of the study coincided with a trip by NC Gov. Bev Perdue to Pennsylvania to meet with energy companies and fracking-friendly local officials. Perde said that she believes natural gas drilling could be done safely, but has not made up her mind on whether she'll support efforts to make fracking legal in the state.[6]

On May 1, 2012, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued its final report incorporating public comment, but did not change the agency’s overall conclusions that could fracking could be done safely in the state.[7]

On June 6, 2012, the state Senate approved the legalization of fracking in the state. The bill is widely expected to be approved by the Republican-led House.[8] The vote came just hours after a 2012 U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the state has 1.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Deep River Basin -- much less optimistic than earlier estimates by state geologists.[9]

On July 1, 2012, Governor Perdue (D) vetoed the legislation, saying that the measure approved by the Republican-led legislature would not ensure adequate environmental protections.[10]

Republicans successfully overrode Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto on July 2, 2012.[11][12]

However, a moratorium was put on hydraulic fracturing to provide time for fracking-specific regulations to be drafted. The North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission expects to finalize fracking regulations by January 1, 2015. They would go into effect in March 2015, with the first drilling permits becoming available on July 1, 2015.[13]

Reserves and resources

In June 2012 an assessment was released by the U.S. Geological Survey estimating that North Carolina's Deep River Basin potentially holds 1.7 trillion cubic feet of gas and 83 million barrels of natural gas liquids.[14]

The Deep River Basin spans 150 miles from Durham to the South Carolina border. The USGS estimate for the Basin is equivalent to about 5.6 years of NC usage based on 2010 state consumption; state geologists had originally estimated 5 years of gas in an area 13 times smaller.[15]

Legislative issues and regulations

2011 veto

In 2011, NC Gov. Perdue (D) vetoed legislation that would have put shale gas exploration on a fast track in the state, calling it unconstitutional.[16]

In early May 2012, Perdue created a work group to develop guidelines that would allow fracking. North Carolina state regulators concluded fracking could be done safely in the state.[17]

SB 820

On May 16, 2012, SB 820 Clean Energy and Economic Security Act advanced, which would legalize fracking 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 was sponsored by Republican Sen. Bob Rucho, and would create a new agency, the N.C. Oil and Gas Board, to oversee fracking and write regulations, and would prohibit local city or county governments from passing ordinances that would ban fracking. The bill would also protect natural gas drilling companies with a 2-year ban on public disclosure of all records, with data classified as a trade secret shielded forever. The bill will compete for votes against a more moderate approach expected from Sen. Mitch Gillespie, a McDowell County Republican who favors greater public safeguards.[18]

On June 5, 2012, SB 820 was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee, and was later approved by the full Senate and the House of Representatives.[19][14]

On July 1, 2012, Governor Perdue (D) vetoed the legislation, saying that the measure approved by the Republican-led legislature would not ensure adequate environmental protections.[20]

Republicans successfully overrode Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto on July 2, 2012, after rallying some Democrats to vote with them. The key vote was Rep. Becky Carney, a Democrat from Mecklenburg County who opposes fracking but pushed the wrong button and accidentally voted with pro-fracking Republicans. A maneuver by Wake County Republican Paul “Skip” Stam prevented her from changing her vote, giving Republicans the final vote needed to override the Governor's veto.[21][22]

Senate Bill 820 prohibits the state from issuing permits for hydraulic fracturing “until the General Assembly takes legislative action to allow the issuance of such permits,” and approves of regulations being considered by the Mining and Energy Commission (MEC).[23]

SB 76

On February 11, 2013, the NC Senate introduced SB 76, which would allows permits to be issued on or after March 1, 2015, regardless of the MEC’s findings. On June 7, 2013, the state House approved a fracking policy that keeps the moratorium on shale gas exploration in place until at least March 2015 and includes a number of public protections and environmental safeguards, rebuffing the Senate bill.[23]

Chemical disclosure

In 2012 a panel was created by the state legislature to craft safety rules for shale gas exploration. The panel - the N.C. Mining & Energy Commission - approved its first rule in March 2013, exempting certain chemicals from public disclosure as "trade secrets," but requiring fracking operators to submit trade secrets under seal to the state in case the data is needed to treat emergency injuries. According to the Charlotte Observer, fracking giant Halliburton told the state’s environmental regulators the rule goes too far, and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources is therefore working to get the rule changed.[24]

Fracking waste

In 2013 NC state lawmakers introduced a bill to allow for injecting brines and toxins deep underground. The bill would undo 40 years of state law, as underwater leakage in the 1960s and 70s led to the state’s ban on deep injection wells. The state’s environmental agency, in a 484-page report published in 2012, urged against legalizing deep disposal of fracking wastes; state geologists say the underground geology west of Raleigh is not porous enough to absorb fluids, forcing the pressurized injections to seek fissures and faults, potentially contaminating freshwater supplies.

The bill would also lift the state’s fracking moratorium in March 2015. The bill has passed the state Senate and will go to the House, where it is likely to be assigned to the Public Utilities Committee.[25]

Citizen activism

On July 8, 2013 it was reported that over one hundred activists in North Carolina associated with Earth Frist! shut down an oil & gas chemical supplier to protest fracking. “We are here to send a message to the oil and gas industries: we will not stand idly by as you destroy this land, or any other, for your personal profit. Respect existence, or expect resistance,” said an Earth First! activist.[26]

Citizen groups

Industry groups

Reports

In June 2012 an assessment was released by the U.S. Geological Survey estimating that North Carolina's Deep River Basin holds 1.7 trillion cubic feet of gas and 83 million barrels of natural gas liquids.[14]

Resources

References

  1. "Senate passes fracking bill, but N.C. may be less rich in gas," Sacramento Bee, June 7, 2012.
  2. John Murawski, "Carney's mistaken vote is key in fracking override," Charlotte Observer, Jul. 03, 2012.
  3. "What the frack? North Carolina lawmaker accidentally votes to legalize fracking" Dylan Stableford, ABC News, July 3, 2012.
  4. "Senate passes fracking bill, but N.C. may be less rich in gas," Sacramento Bee, June 7, 2012.
  5. John Murawski, "N.C. regulators support fracking, but report calls for safeguards," News Observer, May 1, 2012.
  6. "Report: Fracking for shale gas can be safe in N.C., if protections in place," Fay Observer, March 17, 2012.
  7. John Murawski, "N.C. regulators support fracking, but report calls for safeguards," News Observer, May 1, 2012.
  8. "Senate passes fracking bill, but N.C. may be less rich in gas," Sacramento Bee, June 7, 2012.
  9. "Senate passes fracking bill, but N.C. may be less rich in gas," Sacramento Bee, June 7, 2012.
  10. Wade Rawlins, "North Carolina governor rejects fracking law," Reuters, July 1, 2012.
  11. John Murawski, "Carney's mistaken vote is key in fracking override," Charlotte Observer, Jul. 03, 2012.
  12. "What the frack? North Carolina lawmaker accidentally votes to legalize fracking" Dylan Stableford, ABC News, July 3, 2012.
  13. Bonner R. Cohen, "North Carolina Lifts Fracking Moratorium," Heartland, July 14, 2014.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 NORTH CAROLINA: Senate passes fracking bill as USGS counts limited resources" Ellen Gilmer, Energywire, June 7, 2012.
  15. "Senate passes fracking bill, but N.C. may be less rich in gas," Sacramento Bee, June 7, 2012.
  16. Wade Rawlins, "North Carolina governor rejects fracking law," Reuters, July 1, 2012.
  17. "N.C. regulators support fracking, but report calls for safeguards" John Murawski, News Observer, May 2, 2012.
  18. John Murawski, "Controversial fracking bill advances," Charlotte News Observer, May. 17, 2012.
  19. John Murawski, "Fracking bill approved by NC Senate committee," News Observer, June 5, 2012.
  20. Wade Rawlins, "North Carolina governor rejects fracking law," Reuters, July 1, 2012.
  21. John Murawski, "Carney's mistaken vote is key in fracking override," Charlotte Observer, Jul. 03, 2012.
  22. "What the frack? North Carolina lawmaker accidentally votes to legalize fracking" Dylan Stableford, ABC News, July 3, 2012.
  23. 23.0 23.1 John Murawski, "House approves bill that keeps fracking moratorium in place," Charlotte News Observer, June 7, 2013.
  24. John Murawski, "Fracking giant Halliburton nixes NC’s chemical disclosure rule," newsobserver.com May 03, 2013.
  25. Anne Blythe, "Fracking waste could go to N.C. coastal towns if ban is lifted," McClatchy, March 5, 2013.
  26. "Hundreds of Protesters Shut Down Oil & Gas Chemical Supplier to Protest Fracking" Earth First! Newswire, July 8, 2013.

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