Raleigh, NC -- Fracking would begin in North Carolina as soon as July 2015, according to a bill that cleared the Senate today on a final vote of 36 to 11. S.B. 786, which sped through two committees on Tuesday and passed its first full vote in the Senate yesterday, lifts the state’s moratorium next summer, but no longer brings jail time for disclosing toxic chemicals.
“Fracking has contaminated rivers and drinking water across the country, and has no place in our state,” said Elizabeth Ouzts, state director for Environment North Carolina. “Yet the N.C. Senate wants to weaken clean water protections and fast-track fracking at every turn.”
Yesterday, Senate Democrats offered a series of amendments to lessen the environmental impact of the bill, including removing the criminal penalty for disclosing fracking chemicals and preventing toxic wastewater discharges into the state’s rivers and lakes. All but one, which required more frequent water testing, were voted down along party lines.
Today, Sen. Chad Barefoot (R-Wake) offered an amendment to lessen the penalty for disclosing chemicals; this time Senate Republicans supported it, and it passed unanimously.
Fracking, the process by which large quantities of water, sand, and toxic chemicals are injected into the ground in order to extract shale gas, is exempt from most major federal environmental laws. Across the country in 2012 alone, the process created more than 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater, which often contains cancer-causing and even radioactive materials.
Two years ago the N.C. legislature placed an indefinite moratorium on fracking permits, in part to allow a new commission to develop rules for gas development. S.B. 786 lifts the moratorium on July 1, 2015, even though the rules are incomplete, and leave unresolved complex questions about mineral property rights, wastewater disposal, and toxic air pollution. S.B. 786 also exempts the 120 rules from up to 12 months of legislative review.
The Senate’s passage of the bill sets up a potential replay of last year, when the N.C. Senate leadership and Gov. Pat McCrory tried to lift the moratorium, but House members ultimately refused to go along. The House could take the bill up after the Memorial Day Weekend.
“The Senate is breaking their promise to our rivers and our drinking water,” said Ouzts. “We urge the House to keep the promise and stand up against the rush to frack.”