N.C. General Assembly attempts to subvert local control of fracking

Above is the North Carolina state legislative building where, as its session drew to a close last week, state Senators snuck in a bill denying local municipalities the right to regulate drilling using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. (© iStock)

In the final hour of the 2015 legislative session, around 4:00 a.m., the North Carolina State Senate slipped a provision into Senate Bill 119 that attempts to prohibit local governments from regulating fracking in any manner. This language was not in any prior bill this legislative session, and received no committee hearing or vetting of any kind by the public or by the affected local governments.

“This is yet another example of the state attempting to lure the fracking industry to North Carolina over the objection of those who would be most directly impacted,” Attorney Brooks Rainey Pearson said.

The language in S119, which the governor has signed, is much broader and more stringent than the prior fracking pre-emption provision. While Senators didn’t name any targets of the provision, Lee County, in the heart of North Carolina’s shale gas resource, was poised to pass a moratorium on oil and gas extraction next week. County officials told the AP they plan to continue pursuing the moratorium. Several North Carolina counties could also be affected. Anson, Chatham and Stokes counties each recently passed a moratorium on fracking while Wake County, like Lee County, was planning to pass a moratorium this week.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a method of extracting natural gas by drilling horizontally into underground shale formations and injecting a high pressure mixture of water and chemicals into the ground. Issues with the process include the concern that the chemicals used can migrate into groundwater, the massive amounts of freshwater used in the process, and the industrial infrastructure that accompanies the drilling. With this bill, the state’s General Assembly attempted to take away the ability of local elected officials to protect their residents from the impacts of this industry through common sense measures such as setbacks and noise and light restrictions. SELC is considering the options available to local governments given this new development.

Read further coverage of S119 in the Fayetteville Observer.

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