NC Senate passes fracking bill in one week
by Anna Oakes
Senate Bill 786, the "Energy Modernization Act," was filed by Republican Sen. Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County on May 15, a day after the General Assembly convened for the 2014 short session. The Republican-led Senate passed the bill 35-12, largely along party lines. Four Democrats also voted in favor of the bill, while Republican Sen. Dan Soucek of Boone was counted as absent.
The bill will now move to the House for consideration.
The Legislature in 2012 voted to authorize natural gas drilling in the state, but it placed a moratorium on drilling until regulations were in place. It also created the Mining and Energy Commission to further develop natural gas policies and regulations. Supporters say the industry will bring jobs and economic benefits to the state.
Hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracking," involves drilling a well vertically and then horizontally into the shale formation. The natural gas production company perforates the well and then pumps fracturing fluid (composed of 98 to 99.5 percent sand and water plus chemical additives) into the well under pressure to fracture the shale.
S786 would establish July 1, 2015, as the date when the state would begin to issue permits for oil and gas exploration, development and production. The Senate attempted similar action during last year's session, but the Republican-majority House voted to maintain the moratorium.
The bill earlier this week contained a provision making disclosure of fracking trade secrets, including the contents of fracturing fluid, a felony offense -- generating news headlines and stirring a public outcry. But the Senate on Thursday voted to amend the provision, decreasing the penalty from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Fracking chemicals have generally been protected from public disclosure by federal and state laws on trade secrets, but the anti-fracking documentary "Gasland" claims that more than 600 chemicals can be used, with fracking waste found to include toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, acetic acids, boric acids, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency on May 9 published a notice, however, that it is seeking public input on the development of regulations on the disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemical substances and mixtures.
Another amendment to S786 adopted Thursday specifies that the confidential lists of developers' fracking chemicals shall be reviewed by the state geologist.
The bill also**changes the name of the North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission to the Oil and Gas Commission, and reduces its membership from 15 appointees to nine.
Senate Leader Phil Berger heralded swift action on natural gas legislation in a May 8 press conference previewing the short session.
"We will continue to also move forward with adopting and implementing an energy policy in North Carolina in order to allow for the real benefits of drilling for natural gas to become a reality in North Carolina in the short term," Berger said.
Most of North Carolina's identified natural gas resources are located in the Piedmont, including the Deep River Basin, which extends from Granville County south to Union County. Within this basin is the Sanford sub-basin, which has been called the most promising location for natural gas. Other identified basins are the Dan River-Danville Basin in Stokes and Rockingham counties and the Davie Basin, which straddles Yadkin and Davie counties.
A 2012 report from the U.S. Geological Survey concluded that North Carolina had less natural gas deposits than previously estimated, with the Deep River Basin containing enough gas to meet the state's demand for 5.6 years and the Dan River-Danville Basin containing only about 60 days worth of gas.