Conserved for fracking?

July 17, 2012 

Excuse us, but there must have been a misunderstanding. Among state House Speaker Thom Tillis’ choices for the new state Mining and Energy Commission – OK, let’s just call it the fracking board – is supposed to be someone with a “conservation” perspective.

Yet Tillis has chosen as his conservation appointee a person who co-founded a group called North Carolina Oil and Gas – a group committed to the proposition that “we want this land drilled.”

Ray Covington, a Lee County landowner and farmer who is Tillis’ pick, told The N&O that he’s “always been a conservationist and a lover of land.” Point taken – the Sanford native and former college administrator doesn’t want the land to be ruined. He wants to figure out how fracking, the controversial natural gas extraction process, can be done safely. Along with protecting the rights of landowners, that’s another of the group’s stated goals.

But this was the essence of the debate that roiled the recent General Assembly session. There is strong disagreement over whether “safe fracking” is achievable, or whether it amounts to a contradiction in terms. Gov. Beverly Perdue, who also had given qualified support to fracking, finally decided things were shaping up badly and vetoed the bill that created the Mining and Energy Commission. The veto was overridden on the strength of a single vote, which a House member said she cast in error.

The commission is supposed to develop the rules by which natural gas companies could begin using the hydraulic fracturing method to unlock gas in underground shale formations. Protection of water supplies from contamination is the key challenge.

From the outset, the 15-member panel will have a strong industry component, with six seats reserved for members with industry links. Just two seats, one the speaker’s appointee and the other named by the Senate president pro tem, have the “conservation” label. Did we expect someone from the Sierra Club or Environmental Defense? Guess again – those groups haven’t gotten around to declaring that “we want this land drilled.”

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