A member of the newly created board that is supposed to write regulations to govern natural gas drilling in North Carolina is raising eyebrows among state environmentalists.
Ray Covington, founder of N.C. Oil and Gas, an organization of Lee County landowners whose list of stated goals includes we want this land drilled, was appointed by GOP House Speaker Thom Tillis as one of the two conservation members on the board.
It adds insult to injury, said Elizabeth Ouzts, director of Environment North Carolina. There should at least be a voice for caution moving forward.
Covington, who owns a farm in Lee County, denies a conflict of interest.
He said his organization is a cooperative meant to ensure North Carolina landowners get complete and accurate information, and that drilling is done safely.
Ive always been a conservationist and a lover of land, Covington said. There needs to be more research done on what exists under the land in North Carolina, and thats what were going to do.
Senate Bill 820, which became law during the waning legislative session after an override of Gov. Bev Perdues veto, established the Mining and Energy Commission. The 15-member commission is supposed to be comprised of six industry members, two local elected officials, two state officials, two conservation members, and the state geologist, the chair of N.C. State Universitys Minerals Research Laboratory Advisory Committee and the states assistant secretary of energy.
Perdue, Tillis and Senate president Phil Berger were each allotted four appointments.
So far, Perdue has not named anyone to the board. Berger and Tillis named their appointments at the end of the recent session.
Tillis filled his slots with: Covington, Charles Holbrook, a retired petroleum geologist, William McNeely, a water and resource management expert for the Environmental Management Commission, and Charles Taylor, a Sanford councilman. Berger appointed: Ivan Gilmore, a waste management expert, James Womack, a Lee County commissioner, Vikram Rao, director of the Research Triangle Energy Consortium, and George Howard, president of Restoration Systems. Howard is the other conservation member of the board. His company restores waterways and land that have been damaged by development.
Drilling remains a long way off because of uncertainty about supply, lack of infrastructure and a depressed natural gas market.
The commission will study the economic viability of developing natural gas in the state, expected environmental impact of development and provide the regulatory framework needed for drilling. It is supposed to make its recommendations in 2014. Legislative action will be needed before drilling can be done.