Senate committee debates fracking bill

Environment North Carolina criticizes proposal
For immediate release

Raleigh, NC— A key Senate committee discussed but took no action on legislation sponsored by Sen. Bob Rucho to move the state towards “fracking,” the controversial form of natural gas drilling currently illegal in North Carolina.  The proposal drew criticism from Environment North Carolina and others.

“Fracking will put drinking water for hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians at risk,” said Elizabeth Ouzts, Environment North Carolina director.  “Moving forward with this dangerous form of drilling—with no guarantee that our waters will be protected—is the wrong choice.”

Fracking, short for “hydraulic fracturing,” is the process by which water, sand, and toxic chemicals are injected into wells at high pressure in order to extract shale gas.

State laws currently prohibit two key aspects of the technology: horizontal drilling and injecting chemicals into the ground.  Senate Bill 820 lifts those prohibitions and tasks an industry-dominated commission with developing rules to allow the practice as soon as 2014.  The proposal also prevents local governments from regulating the practice.

A 484-page study from the state’s environmental agency documents the extent to which fracking has contaminated water supplies and waterways around the country.  Because shale gas reserves are much closer to North Carolina’s groundwater supplies than in other states, fracking could pose even greater risks here.  According to the study, the drinking water for more than 400,000 North Carolinians who rely on groundwater could be impacted. 

The state’s shale gas supplies are an open question.   Early estimates were that the supplies would cover 40 years of the state’s natural gas use.  They’ve since been revised to about five.  The U.S. Geological Survey is expected to issue a more definitive estimate this year.

"If lawmakers want to take action on fracking,” said Ouzts,  “the only sensible step forward is to further study the size of the resource and whether extracting it is worth exposing our waters and our citizens to inevitable increased pollution.”

A recent poll showed that 63% of North Carolinians support further study of fracking’s potential impacts, versus 31% who support legalizing it now.