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Public Hearings on Oil and Gas Rules

Promises Lie in Ruins after Senate Bill 786, Public Resistance to Fracking Growing

Rather than tamping down resistance to hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, the state’s newest legislation on fracking Senate Bill 786, dubbed the “Energy Modernization Act,” has only strengthened it and increased the controversy across the state. With budget negotiations between the House and Senate still underway at press time to decide whether $1 million in contracts for gas exploration will be doled out to industry for several locations around the state, activism has grown sharply in the far western mountain counties and the western piedmont Davie and Yadkin Counties.

When NC legislators passed Senate Bill 820 in 2012 over Governor Perdue’s veto, to allow horizontal drilling and injection of “fracking fluids” to extract natural gas, they broke a long -standing promise to the people of North Carolina to protect groundwater as a source of drinking water. But to get enough votes to pass SB 820 with legislators in both parties worried about public reaction, the bill’s sponsors had agreed to include several new promises to placate the public.

Among the promises made to the public in the 2012 legislation that legalized fracking:

  • A moratorium on issuing fracking permits until the Mining and Energy Commission had finished drafting more than 120 complex rules and the legislature had voted to approve them.
  • The most protective “baseline testing” rules in the nation, with a requirement to test drinking water wells out to 5,000 feet from drilling operations.
  • Legislation based on the results of Study Groups on Compulsory Pooling of landowners and Local Government Control of gas drilling and development.

When Senate Bill 786 was being drafted in May, the Mining and Energy Commission had already asked the legislature to greatly reduce the radius for well testing and to limit local government control of gas development. At the last minute, before the public and even many legislators had a chance to review the changes, the Senate sponsors added language to repeal the requirement for final approval of the rules, thus lifting the moratorium on fracking permits shortly after the rules are finalized without legislative approval.

Rep. Mike Stone of Lee County and other pro-fracking legislators practically sneered at their concerned colleagues during the final debate on SB 786 in the House of Representatives, saying they had put up with “these kinds of delays” for years and it was long past time to move forward to bring the industry to NC. In the end, the bill passed both chambers in a few days. All three promises to the NC public, of which at least 55% oppose fracking, had been smashed. Eleven Republican Representatives listened to their concerned constituents and voted against SB 786.

People and local governments around the state are rising up, determined to hold legislators accountable for a vote that sells out NC’s public interest for dirty oil and gas political money. Whole regions of the state that had not been paying attention are organizing rapidly, with thousands of petition signatures calling for a Frack Free NC in recent weeks.

Recent approaches to Durham and Orange County landowners by Crimson Holding to lease mineral rights have also awakened areas of the Triangle that thought they’d never face the prospect of gas development. The lease contracts mailed to numerous residents and even a conservation land trust offer $5/acre signing bonuses, long lease terms and automatic renewals, the right to transfer leases, all terms very exploitative for landowners and possibly illegal. The NC Attorney General’s office, when contacted, indicated extensive concerns with the leases and will be issuing a statement soon. Anyone contacted by an entity seeking to lease their mineral rights should avoid signing, report this to Clean Water for North Carolina, 919-401-9600 or Rural Advancement Foundation, Intl. (RAFI) 919-542-1396, x209, or if you are considering signing, RAFI can help you find an attorney.

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