On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled North Carolina House of Representatives, voted 63-52 in a preliminary vote to allow fracking for natural gas to begin in the state next summer. A final House vote is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
Democrats and environmental groups were astonished as, in less than 24 hours, the bill was rushed through two committees and onto the House floor without any prior public notice.
“I’d ask you: How many of you have actually read the bill as currently amended. The whole entire bill?” Rep. Darren G. Jackson, a Raleigh Democrat, asked the House.
Critics of the bill complained that it was being fast-tracked through the legislative process before opponents can build a case or anyone can actually study the language.
The bill, known as the “Energy Modernization Act,” was sent over from the Senate where it passed 35-12 last Thursday. If the Senate agrees with House changes, the bill will head to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk where it is expected to be signed.
The Senate bill includes language that would make it a crime to disclose the chemicals used in fracking. Releasing fracking fluid composition “knowingly or negligently” would be considered a misdemeanor. The bill would also prevent local bans on fracking and reduce groundwater testing in fracking areas. Senate Republicans originally wanted to make it a felony to disclose this information, which would have meant violators could have ended up in jail.
Across the country, environmentalists have been calling on energy companies to be more transparent about the kinds and quantities of chemicals being injected underground during fracking operations. Without knowing what is being used, advocates say, it is very hard to prove that a well is causing groundwater contamination or to know how to treat people suffering side effects.
“If this industry is going to come here, North Carolinians deserve the assurance that it’s not going to come at the cost to their health and environment,” David Kelly, a senior analyst from the North Carolina chapter of the Environmental Defense Fund told North Carolina Health News.
North Carolina is much more densely settled than many of the other states which have opened their doors to fracking. Just how much gas lies under the state is also hotly disputed. Some geologists estimate that there may be only a couple hundred thousand acres of natural gas, or about a six year supply. The Marcellus Shale formation being fracked in Pennsylvania and Ohio is thought to contain 60 million acres of natural gas.
The North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission has been in the process of writing rules to regulate franking in the state for nearly two years. While these rules are being written, a moratorium on fracking has been in place. The bill currently being debated would require the Commission to complete its 120 fracking rules by Jan. 1
“This bill would allow permits to be issued regardless of whether the rules are adequate or among the best in the country,” Molly Diggins, the state director of the Sierra Club told the News & Observer.