North Carolina has estimated 83 million barrels of natural gas liquids – roughly a five-year supply for the state’s energy needs. Now, a new law will allow it to be extracted. On Wednesday, Republican Governor Pat McCrory signed a bill that will lift the state ban on hydraulic fracturing, clearing the way for permits to be issued for shale gas exploration as early as next spring.
“We have watched and waited as other states moved forward with energy exploration, and it is finally our turn,” said Governor McCrory. “This legislation will spur economic development at all levels of our economy, not just the energy sector.”
The new Energy Modernization Act, which also prohibits local governments from outlawing fracking and makes it illegal to reveal the chemicals used to extract oil or gas from wells using fracking, was adopted by a vote of 35 in favour and 12 votes against. The senators in favour of the new legislation argued that it meets the need to protect and respect trade secrets.
Environmentalists have expressed deep concern about the adopted law. In their opinion, public access to the full contents of the fracturing fluid is extremely important especially in the context of emerging concerns about the state of the groundwater.
“The biggest concern overall is that fracking is going to threaten our water,” Elizabeth Ouzts, state director of Environment North Carolina 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.”
In 2012, the moratorium on fracking was put into place to give the state’s Mining and Energy Commission time to prepare fracking-specific environmental protection laws. Many environmentalists find it alarming that the new law was passed before the Commission finished its work.
“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,” Ms Ouzts said.
Many observers are also concerned about the speed at which the bill passed through two committees and onto the House floor, the whole process taking less than 24 hours.
The Energy Modernization Act makes state geologists the guardians of confidential information concerning the composition of fracturing fluids. This information may be published only by health care professionals, national security authorities or the fire department in case of emergency.
Exploration companies also need to comply with federal regulations under which companies are required to disclose the fracking chemicals in the federal register, available on a public website fracfocus.org.
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