The Energy Modernization Act would lift a moratorium set in July 2012 on the issuance of state permits for hydraulic fracturing — better known as fracking —while safety regulations were being developed.
The bill passed its first hurdle in the N.C. House, the Committee on Public Utilities and Energy, on Tuesday. The committee amended the bill to allow fracking to begin in North Carolina as early as March 2015, as opposed to the previous date of July.
But some state environmental groups are concerned with the fast-tracking of the bill, which was passed by two N.C. Senate committees last week.
During fracking, millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are drilled and injected into shale rock in order to release natural gas.
Fracking has pitted those who support it for potential job creation against those who oppose it based on environmental risks — fearing it could pollute surrounding groundwater.
Tom Reeder, director of the Division of Water Resources in the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the division is making sure fracking only occurs where water quality would not be threatened.
“We believe the Deep River can support these operations, and we feel good that the rules they are putting in place will protect North Carolina’s groundwater,” Reeder said.
The department began testing water sites for safe fracking potential last November.
State Geologist Kenneth Taylor said the N.C. environmental department’s Division of Energy, Minerals and Land Resources is considering several implications of the bill.
“We will work with the (N.C.) Senate and the House to ensure that the final bill protects the environment and promotes responsible exploration of our energy and mineral resources,” he said in an email.
But David Streifford, founder of Preserve Carolina, a nonprofit organization that opposes fracking, said legislators have ignored the environmental risks of fracking.
“From the get-go, the legislators have shown not only a complete disregard for the health and safety of residents, but also a complete ignorance of the dangers of fracking,” Streifford said.
He said any jobs created by fracking would go to workers from states already experienced with the industry, as opposed to inexperienced North Carolinians.
“The state legislature pretends, or claims, that hydraulic fracturing for shale gas is going to provide some kind of economic engine for the state to provide lots of jobs and revenue,” Streifford said. “It’s just a sham. A complete sham.”
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