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N.C. House Democrats introduce bill to ban fracking, 11 years after it was made legal

A hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, rig is seen Oct. 17, 2011, on the Utica Shale formation in Ohio. TNS/Gus Chan

House Bill 676, filed on April 18 by N.C. Rep. John Autry (D-Mecklenburg), proposes a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking.”

Fracking is the process of injecting water, sand and other chemicals into the ground to crack shale rock deep below the earth's surface and release natural gas. There are many potential negative health effects associated with fracking, such as exposure to hazardous materials, contamination of local drinking water, air pollution and an increased possibility of industrial accidents, according to a PubMed article. 

Fracking was legalized in North Carolina with the passing of the Clean Energy and Economic Security Act in 2012.

N.C. Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) said the decision to legalize fracking was made during a time when other states were pursuing fracking as an opportunity for profit and officials in North Carolina were interested in following suit.

“But at the same time, we as a state had been having conversations about climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, and pursuing more fossil fuel-based energy did not make any sense to us,” Harrison said. “But the GOP was very interested in more offshore drilling and the potential for price gas in North Carolina. So, efforts are made to remove any limitations on both of those exploration opportunities.”

This is the third legislative session in a row that Autry has filed this bill. Autry said environmental causes are one of his main advocacy platforms, as he first ran for elected office with the goal of positively impacting his community. He served on the Charlotte City Council from 2011 to 2016 and has since served in the General Assembly.

“Since that time, since serving on the Charlotte City Council, I've become a grandfather,” Autry said. “And my concern for what sort of environment in the world I'm going to be leaving behind for my grandchildren is paramount for me right now.”

Brooks Rainey Pearson serves as legislative counsel for the Southern Environmental Law Center and lobbies the N.C. General Assembly on the group's behalf. She said allowing fracking in North Carolina was not an economically sound decision because of North Carolina’s limited supply of natural gas compared to other states. 

“North Carolina does not have a lot of gas,” Pearson said. “In fact, if you came in and extracted all of it, it wouldn't even power the state of North Carolina for very long. It's not a very rich resource.”

Pearson said fracking posed a greater threat to North Carolina around 10 years ago when there was heightened leasing activity in Lee and Chatham counties, where people were purchasing the mineral rights to various properties owned by other people. 

However, Pearson said fracking has become less of a prominent threat in North Carolina since then, as many of these leases expired and it didn’t garner economic momentum.

“I think the industry also realized that wasn't profitable for them,” she said. “So, we really haven't seen any interest from the gas industry and coming to North Carolina and fracking and getting our gas. So it's really fallen off the radar of the environmental community.”

Harrison and Pearson both said they don’t expect the bill to make any progress. The bill was last referred to the House rules committee on April 19.

“We used to have a lot of common interest and there were certain things that, no matter what side of how you branded yourself politically, there were certain things that we wanted to ensure that we on both sides work together on," Autry said.

But, over time, people have shifted away from a sense of collective responsibility to protect the environment, he said.


@DTHCityState | 

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