North Carolina is open to frack.
On Wednesday, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed a law that lifts the state’s moratorium on fracking permits, a ban that’s been in place since 2012. The new law, called the Energy Modernization Act, allows fracking permits to be issued in the state as soon as next spring. Those permits would allow for the first fracking ever in the state, whose midsection houses Triassic Basin shale deposits.
The 2012 moratorium was put into place to provide time for fracking-specific environmental protection rules to be drafted in the state. But Elizabeth Ouzts, state director of Environment North Carolina, said that though the state’s Mining and Energy Commission is working on creating the rules, based on what she’s seen so far, they’re inadequate. They don’t address air pollution from fracking operations, and they allow the fracking wastewater to be stored in pits — something Ouzts is particularly concerned about, given February’s major coal ash spill into a North Carolina river, which happened as a result of a leak in a containing pond.
“The biggest concern overall is that fracking is going to threaten our water,” she said. “By rushing to drill here, North Carolina leaders are putting our drinking water at risk and they’re putting our rivers at risk of pollution. What’s even worse, is that they’re doing so without guarantee that we’ll have rules in place that could even mitigate some of these risks.”
Ouzts said the Mining and Energy Commission is scheduled to finish its work on the rules by January 1, 2015, and that the rules should go into effect around March. The commission will be holding public hearings before the rules are settled, probably in late August. So far, though, she said there were only three public hearing scheduled, so Environment North Carolina is working to ensure more hearings are scheduled, so that residents from all over the state have the opportunity to voice their opinions on the rules.
Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, communications director for the North Carolina Sierra Club, said the fact that North Carolina currently has no environmental rules on the books regarding fracking is troubling.
“What North Carolinians were told in 2012 was that we were going to have the best rules in the country, and the fact that the governor has already signed a law before any of these rules have been adopted or heard by the public is kind of hard to swallow,” he said.
North Carolina’s Mining and Energy Commission was found earlier this month to have met with energy industry executives — specifically ones from companies that sell chemicals used in fracking — before recommending to North Carolina officials that the state should let mining companies keep their chemical brew a secret. The AP reported that at least three members of the Mining and Energy Commission’s board met with executives from Halliburton and other companies, meetings that aren’t illegal but that some say should have been conducted by the entire board, not just a few members, to ensure transparency.
The law signed by McCrory makes the “unlawful disclosure” of the chemical brew that’s injected into the ground to unlock stores of natural gas a misdemeanor. That’s a downgrade in severity from a previous version of the bill, which would have made it a felony to disclose the chemical mix, which is regarded by several states as a trade secret.
The speed with which the law passed through the North Carolina legislature surprised critics — in less than 24 hours and without prior public notice, the bill passed through two committees and onto the House floor, where it passed.
“I think this bill was railroaded through both chambers of the legislature,” Chicurel-Bayard said. “There was very little time for public input, public comment, or public notice even.”
With this new law, North Carolina will soon join the 21 other states where fracking is taking place. Oil and gas companies in Nevada, too, recently began fracking, though it’s been met in some areas with protests.