A bill that would allow hydraulic fracturing in North Carolina is racing through Chambers during this short session of the General Assembly.
Last week, the Senate passed the Energy Modernization Act. This week, the proposed legislation, Senate Bill 786, has passed through two House Committees with one major change to the permitting timeline.
In a controversial amendment to the House calendar that passed 66 - 50 on Wednesday, House members agreed to hear the measure the same day. The measure then passed its second reading in a vote of 63 in favor and 52 against.
Members of the House Public Utility and Energy Committee amended the time requirement for issuing permits to oil and gas companies. Instead of opening the door to fracking by July, permits would be issued sixty days after the General Assembly approves the final regulations that will govern the industry.
Representative Susi Hamilton, a Democrat from New Hanover County, says she’s alarmed at the speed at which the bill is moving -- particularly when there are critical components yet to be addressed. For example, rules on forced pooling will be decided after further study.
"People who don’t want fracking to occur on their property stand to have absolutely no voice in that debate. The industry wants to force property owners to give up their mineral rights and cross through property lines underground to pull the resource out. That’s an issue in every state where fracking occurs and it’s an issue of fairness and private property rights, candidly."
Hamilton says she’s also hearing from city and county officials concerned about the loss of zoning control in their own municipalities.
"So the communities are not allowed to say, ‘We don’t want this here,’ and use their zoning ordinances to preclude it from happening or make them perform under a certain set of conditions. The state has totally – in this bill -- taken away the local community rights on this industry. They will have none. The state is forcing local communities to accept this industry with no regulations on them."
The vote in the Senate fell largely along party lines. On the Republican side of the aisle, every Senator voted for the bill – including Thom Goolsby of New Hanover County and Bill Rabon of Brunswick County. The Democratic camp largely opposed it – with four voting in favor, twelve against.
Senator Bill Rabon, who voted for the bill, deferred questions about it to primary sponsor Senator Bob Rucho. Senator Thom Goolsby did not return calls for comment by deadline.