Senate committee votes to end NC fracking moratorium
RALEIGH, Feb 21, 2013 (The News & Observer (Raleigh - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A state Senate committee voted Thursday to end the state's fracking moratorium and give incentives to the energy industry to drill in North Carolina, setting up the legislation for a full Senate vote next week.
Republican Sen. E.S. "Buck" Newton, predicted the bill's passage by the legislature would lead to almost immediate job creation in North Carolina. Newton, representing Johnston, Nash and Wilson counties, said the bill would encourage energy companies to make hotel reservations, hire engineering firms and contract with truckers as they begin exploration activities here.
After the Senate Commerce Committee voted for the bill, another bill sponsor, Republican Sen. Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County, characterized opponents of the bill as opponents of jobs.
"We're only 10 years behind," added Republican Sen. Jerry Tillman of Moore and Randolph counties. "If you nitpick it to death, the businessmen will not put their money on the line to come here."
The legislation still requires hearings and votes at the state House.
The bill would allow the state to start issuing permits in 2015. It would end a "landman registry" created last year, so that energy company representatives will be able to sign leases with landowners without tipping off the competition, Newton said.
The bill's opponents say it waters down environmental safeguards and public protections created by the legislature last year.
"I'm concerned about this aggressive energy to get this done, this jobs panacea, at all costs," said Democratic Sen. Angela Bryant after the hearing. "It's this gung-ho approach that's scary to me, and that anyone in their right mind at these agencies is not going to get in front of this train if they want to keep their jobs."
Bryant represents Halifax, Nash, Vance, Warren and Wilson counties.
Critics questioned a number of provisions created to help the industry.
One such provision would allow the injection of used water into wells that have produced natural gas. The purpose is to allow for permanent disposal of such water, solving one of the challenges facing the energy industry throughout the nation. On Bryant's request, Newton agreed to prevent fracking water from out-of-state to be injected in North Carolina.
Such water is a mixture of fluids used for fracking and underground brine that flushes out when a gas well is fracked.
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources last year said fracking could be done safely with the right safeguards in place, but the agency cautioned that the state's geology is not suitable for re-injecting tainted water for sequestration.
Fracking refers to hydraulic fracturing, a means of removing natural gas trapped in prehistoric shale rock formations by pumping in water and chemicals to smash the rock.
North Carolina is believed to have 1.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, concentrated around Lee, Moore and Chatham counties, according to a preliminary estimate last year by the U.S. Geological Survey. Newton said earlier this week that preliminary estimates usually understate reserves, saying the state's natural gas deposit is potentially 10 times greater than the federal estimate.
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