On Wednesday, the North Carolina Senate passed a bill that would allow the state to move forward with natural gas exploration, through a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Called the Energy Modernization Act, Senate Bill 786 would “extend the deadline for development of a modern regulatory program for the management of oil and gas exploration, development, and production in the state and the use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing treatments for that purpose.” It would also prohibit the disclosure of the chemicals used in the fracking process, making it a Class I felony to disclose those “trade secrets.”
Perhaps of most interest to Anson County, the bill, if it becomes law, would make “local ordinances prohibiting oil and gas exploration, development, and production activities invalid.”
Last year, the Anson County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to enact a five-year moratorium on the process of fracking within the county. This bill would essentially make the commissioners’ moratorium null and void. Anson County is part of the Triassic Basin, which would be a prime location for shale gas exploration.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said in a press release that the Energy Modernization Act is “expected to help the state jumpstart a thriving new industry, attract thousands of well-paying jobs and push toward long-term energy independence.”
The bill was sponsored by Sens. Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg), Buck Newton (R-Wilson) and Andrew Brock (R-Davie). It passed the N.C. Senate by a vote of 47-35.
Anson’s senator, Gene McLaurin, voted against the bill. McLaurin attempted to amend the bill to allow local authorities to weigh in on land use planning, transportation needs, and public health issues, but the amendment failed, 16-30. “We should be reaching out to our local communities to determine their needs and concerns, to determine the unique impact on that particular community. Instead, this bill prohibits their input,” McLaurin said. “Property rights are not adequately addressed. Under this bill, companies can extract natural gas from your land if a majority of your neighbors approve it.”
Anson County Commission Chair Anna Baucom added that she is also concerned about the effects fracking could have on Anson County and its people. “Although I am very disappointed by the passage of the bill, I am grateful to our senator, Gene McLaurin, for standing up for our concerns about fracking,” she said. “The bill effectively prohibits any actions by local boards to protect communities from an enterprise that is now free from rules, regulations, or means to protect citizens or the environment. Hopefully, the State House will reject their version of Senate Bill 786 and/or adopt safeguards and standards proposed by Senator McLaurin. I think that we will pay a terrible price for the collective actions of this N.C. General Assembly.”
Before the bill is signed into law, it will have to pass the N.C. House. It is expected to be heard there on Tuesday.
McLaurin’s counterpart in the N.C. House, Rep. Mark Brody, declined to comment on the bill until he’s had the chance to look over it in detail. A first reading of the bill in the House is planned for Tuesday, and Brody said he would “know more after that.”
The complete bill may be viewed on the N.C. General Assembly’s website, www.ncleg.net, by searching for S786 in the “Find a Bill” field.