RALEIGH — With Republican lawmakers pushing to legalize fracking, Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue issued an executive order Monday that creates a task force to develop regulations for the controversial natural gas drilling method.
The task force “will help to establish guidelines and create a framework for considering the type of standards that must be developed before any energy development begins,” Perdue said in a statement.
Republican legislative leaders and Perdue support fracking but differ on the details. The task force represents a competing effort to set the parameters on how to implement a practice reviled by critics for its negative environmental impact and promoted by supporters as an economic engine.
A Republican-backed bill in the state Senate to legalize fracking would establish a new agency, the N.C. Oil and Gas Board, to oversee writing regulations. The bill sponsor, Sen. Bob Rucho of Charlotte, welcomed Perdue’s support of fracking but suggested the parallel efforts are unnecessary.
“The governor may have another idea on how to proceed ..., but in reality we hope that the governor will support our effort to move forward and implement what we do pass,” said Rucho, the chairman of the Senate Energy Policy Issues Committee.
2014 deadline is flexible
Rucho’s bill would legalize fracking by mid-2014, though he has said the deadline could be extended. Republican Rep. Mitch Gillespie of Marion, who is leading his chamber’s negotiations on the legislation, doesn’t want to legalize fracking until the consumer protections are written into law.
Perdue has not taken a position on the legislation. A spokeswoman said it was “too early in the process to comment” on whether she would sign the bill.
The governor’s task force is led by the state’s commerce and environmental agencies and filled with representatives from other state entities. Perdue also invited top Republican and Democratic lawmakers to make appointments. The executive order, No. 118, calls for the group to report its progress or make recommendations in six months and continuously do so twice a year.
The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources conducted a lengthy study of fracking earlier this year, concluding it can be done safely with certain regulations. The four-page executive order includes a series of “guiding principles” detailing the issues the task force must consider, such as water quality and the disclosure of chemicals used in drilling.
Environmental groups opposed to fracking lament Perdue’s support for the practice. But the guiding principles the governor included in the executive order give them a bit of comfort.
“With the principles, the governor is setting a bar that needs to be met for fracking to be done safely,” said Molly Diggins of the Sierra Club.