NC legislature slows fracking rush, renews push for offshore drilling
North Carolina has a governor and legislative leadership eager to welcome the natural gas industry to the state. But in the legislative session that ended last week, that eagerness failed to translate into final passage of a bill to speed the state's move toward fracking.
Gov. Pat McCrory (R) says he's not giving up yet, though.
"We're going to keep fighting for energy," he told reporters last week. "Some minor issues tripped up the House and Senate on that issue."
Last year in a controversial late-night maneuver, North Carolina's Republican-controlled state legislature overrode a veto by former Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue to legalize fracking in the state -- doing so by a single vote cast in error. That law imposed a moratorium on issuing fracking permits until the state Mining and Energy Commission crafted regulations that were then to be approved by the legislature.
This year, with new pro-drilling Republican supermajorities in both chambers as well as a pro-drilling Republican in the executive mansion, there were several efforts to modify the existing fracking law. One proposal would have allowed disposal of fracking waste in deep underground wells. Another would have allowed energy companies to avoid disclosing chemicals used in the fracking process by claiming trade-secret exemptions. And yet another would have sped up the state's move to fracking by lifting the moratorium and allowing permits to be issued in mid-2015 -- even if regulations were still not in place and approved by the legislature.
All of those measures failed to pass.
In the closing days of the session, the proposal to lift the fracking moratorium was inserted into an unrelated bill reorganizing the state Department of Commerce. But there was not enough support in the House for the measure to win approval.
Molly Diggins of the Sierra Club's North Carolina chapter told The News & Observer that the House "has sided with the public interest in rejecting the Senate's repeated efforts to push extreme proposals on fracking."
The legislation could be brought back in next year's short session that begins in May. McCrory could also call a special session to consider the bill, though he has not said he plans to do so.
But while rejecting the proposal to speed up fracking, the North Carolina legislature took steps to move the state closer toward offshore drilling. Lawmakers approved a measure that requires McCrory to join with his fellow Republican governors Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Bob McDonnell of Virginia to press the federal government to allow energy development in federal waters that begin three miles off their coasts.
In a nod to environmental concerns, the bill sets up a $250 million fund for emergency cleanup in case of a spill. That amount is just a drop in the bucket compared to what it costs to clean up a major spill, however. As of the beginning of this year, for example, BP had spent over $14 billion in cleanup operations for its 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil-spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
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