The N.C. Senate passed a bill Thursday that would legalize fracking in North Carolina within several years, leaving the fate of natural gas exploration in the hands of Gov. Bev Perdue.
Perdue has 10 days to decide whether she’ll sign or veto the controversial legislation that would dramatically reshape the state’s energy landscape. Supporters laud the bill for its potential economic benefits and opponents denounce it as environmentally destructive.
Perdue, who has expressed support for fracking in the past, has remained conspicuously silent on the Republican-backed fracking legislation. A recent state study concluded that opening the state to the natural gas industry would create several hundred jobs but would require strict safeguards to prevent chemical spills, well blowouts and exploitation of property owners.
Fracking opponents have turned up the heat in a bid to persuade the governor to squelch fracking.
“We’ve received 7,641 emails since June 8 and 2,824 calls since this issue started getting attention several months ago,” said Perdue spokesman Mark Johnson. “The contacts are overwhelmingly opposed to fracking with very few supportive comments.”
The legislation would begin the process of creating regulations and standards for natural gas exploration by creating a special commission to oversee the process. The state legislature would have to take a separate vote, at least two years from now, to approve the final rules and allow energy companies to pull drilling permits.
The bill passed the Senate with little debate on a vote of 29-15.
The House passed the bill last week but the vote was close enough to suggest that fracking supporters may not have enough votes to override a veto.
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which would help oversee fracking in the state, had asked for at least $1.2 million to fund seven full-time positions and further studies needed to create new energy laws. The legislature provided funding for just three positions, a potential sticking point for the governor.
The fracking bill would roll back state laws dating back to 1945 that prohibit horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, the two main components of producing natural gas from prehistoric shale rock formations. Fracking is industry shorthand for hydraulic fracturing, or pumping water and chemicals underground at high pressure to break up shale rock and release the natural gas trapped inside.
North Carolina is believed to have nearly 1.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, much of it concentrated in Lee, Moore and Chatham counties, a region once known for coal mining.