Last week, the N.C. House of Representatives passed a bill, 64-50, that essentially lifts the state’s ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas. The Senate had approved the same bill, also known as the Energy Modernization Act, on May 21 by a vote of 47-35. The bill now goes to Gov. Pat McCrory to be signed into law. The governor told reporters Thursday in Raleigh he “absolutely” supports the bill.
“We have sat on the sidelines as a state for far too long on gas exploration and having (North Carolina) create jobs and also help with our country’s energy independence,” he was quoted saying.
In addition to lifting the fracking ban, the bill also prohibits the disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process and makes local ordinances prohibiting gas exploration invalid. The Anson County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a five-year moratorium on fracking within the county last year, which is now invalid. Anson is part of the Triassic Basin, with a large swath of land that is prime for natural gas exploration stretching across the middle of the county.
Both of Anson County’s state representatives voted against Senate Bill 786. Sen. Gene McLaurin said after the vote on May 21 that he did not agree with taking power away from local governments. “We should be reaching out to our local communities to determine their needs and concerns, to determine the unique impact on that particular community,” McLaurin said. “Instead, this bill prohibits their input.”
Although Rep. Mark Brody told several Anson County residents he was in favor of the bill, when it came to vote in the House on Thursday, Brody voted “no.”
“I had a couple of concerns about the bill,” he explained. “In particular, the lack of local control for Anson County. I do support gas exploration, but I thought it should include local decision-making.”
Deb Arnason and Denise Lee, who represent Pee Dee W.A.L.L., a local organization that has been very vocal about its opposition to fracking, were both present for the vote on the bill and took part in several protests in Raleigh. “People need to understand that the Mining and Energy Commission hasn’t even set the rules yet,” Lee said. “We don’t know what it all means. But we are still working on the issue.”
The new law means that the first permits for fracking may be issued as early as May of next year. However, Brody also stressed that even though the Energy Modernization Act has now passed, it is far from set in stone. “I think we need to let the next steps happen,” he said. “There are a lot of things we need to deal with — local revenues, how we’re going to deal with the increased traffic on our roads, pooling. Once we understand the rules, the General Assembly will have the opportunity to review the rules. The legislature will have the final say.”
Although Anson County may be years from having its first gas exploration sites , Arnason said she was not pleased with how quickly the legislature pushed the law through. “The sad thing is, they wouldn’t take any of the Democrats’ amendments that might have made it easier,” she said. “There were 16 amendments they nixed.”
However, Arnason and Lee both said Pee Dee W.A.L.L. will continue fighting against fracking. “Our local N.C. Rep. Mark Brody’s vote at the 11th hour against this bad rushed bill gives me hope,” Arnason said. “Credit also goes to our N.C. Senator Gene McLaurin, who also voted against this bill because it lifts the ban on fracking before it adopts rules and regulations to protect our clean drinking water, our community and property rights.”
Arnason added that Pee Dee W.A.L.L. isn’t against progress. “We could still have jobs and a booming economy, but with positive solutions instead of harmful ones,” she said.
Brody said that in his eyes, it all came down to the lack of local control over the fracking process. “I just want the Anson County folks to realize we’re looking out for them — not only for their environment, but also property rights,” he said. “These are all balancing acts that we’re going to have to address.”