A contentious bill to allow hydrolic fracturing – or “fracking” – for oil and gas exploration in the state passed the N.C. Senate on Wednesday by a 29-19 majority, and is expected to be voted on today in the House. The Senate vote followed a standing-room-only Commerce Committee hearing on Tuesday, which saw Senate Democratic Leader Martin Nesbitt, Jr., of Buncombe County, speak out against the bill .
A report in the Charlotte Observer quoted Nesbitt’s warning that: “If you mess up the water tables of this state, you’re done. If you get bleed-through from a mining operation, you’re done forever – that place is wiped out.” (Fracking involves injecting pressurized fluid into shale rock formations to release gas and petroleum.)
But the bill in question (SB 820), entitled the Clean Energy and Economic Security Act, has several Western North Carolina co-sponsors, including Republican Sen. Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville—who represents Buncombe, Henderson and Polk counties. Republicans Jim Davis of Franklin and Ralph Hise of Spruce Pine are also co-sponsors. The bill is expected to pass in the House, and then will face Gov. Bev Perdue and the possibility of a veto. The governor, who quashed an earlier bill calling for test drilling, has subsequently announced that she believes drilling can be done safely in the state. But the safety provisions of SB 820 and its expedited scheduling could prove inadequate for her measure.
On the same day that SB 820 passed the Senate, the N.C. Department of Energy and Natural Resources announced the findings of an assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey of the undiscovered oil and gas resources for five East Coast Mesozoic basins, including North Carolina, indicating natural gas resources in this state’s Deep River Basin sufficient to meet North Carolina’s natural gas demand for approximately 5.6 years. A smaller formation, the Dan River-Danville Basin, is estimated to contain a potential 60-day supply. Both basins are located in the piedmont area of the state.
The House convenes today at noon. Also on the schedule are the reconsideration of five bills formerly ratified but then vetoed by Gov. Bev Perdue, including HB 351, the Restore Confidence in Government legislation requiring photo identification in order to vote; SB 9, called the No Discriminatory Purpose in Death Penalty, which essentially repeals the state’s Racial Justice Act; and SB 709, known as the Energy Jobs Act, which deals withoffshore and onshore energy development and prospective state revenues, and directs the governor to establish a regional energy pact with Virginia and South Carolina.
by Nelda Holder, associate editor