Cary committee to recommend fracking moratorium

aspecht@newsobserver.comDecember 11, 2013 

— After months of studying shale gas exploration and following related legislation in North Carolina, a town subcommittee wants to temporarily block the controversial practice in Cary.

Western Cary and Jordan Lake are part of the Deep River Basin, where recoverable gas might exist.

A statewide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, is already in effect. But the General Assembly could vote to lift it as early as next year.

Cary doesn’t have fracking regulations and may not have them by the time the state’s moratorium is lifted.

That’s part of the reason Cary’s Shale Gas Development Subcommittee agreed Wednesday that the town should impose its own moratorium on fracking. The group thinks Cary should wait until the Environmental Protection Agency releases a much-anticipated study on fracking in 2016 before crafting regulations.

“We’re just recommending a delay,” said Liz Adams, one of the four subcommittee members. “Once we completely understand the impacts, we can then set better protections in place before allowing it to move forward.”

State laws don’t allow municipalities to ban fracking or enact rules that have the effect of prohibiting oil and gas exploration.

Cary’s actions are also limited because state legislators haven’t crafted a clear vision for regulating fracking in North Carolina.

The moratorium is in place until the legislature votes to approve comprehensive fracking regulations. Republican state leaders hoped to have more industry-friendly policies in place by the end of the year, but members of the House and Senate couldn’t come to an agreement.

Republican leaders vowed to take up the issue again, likely by calling a special session or bringing proposals back during next year’s short session which begins in May.

One of the debates is over whether to require companies to publicly disclose which chemicals they use during shale gas exploration. The N.C. Mining and Energy Commission, which has gone back and forth on the issue, is expected to vote in January on what to recommend to the legislature.

“Every day new information is coming out. It’s hard to keep track of the latest discoveries,” said Rajit Ramkumar, a member of the subcommittee.

Though Cary’s hands are mostly tied, the town has taken internal steps to prepare for fracking.

In March 2012, the Town Council passed a resolution encouraging the General Assembly to craft fracking regulations that “preserve local governments’ abilities to determine appropriate land use planning related to potential locations of oil and gas activities.”

The council also directed a special shale gas development task force to thoroughly study how the practice might affect Cary. The task force submitted a report in August 2012 and encouraged the town to continue monitoring the industry in North Carolina.

Cary’s Environmental Advisory Board formed the Shale Gas Development Subcommittee in April. Danna Widmar, the subcommittee’s chair, said she expects to recommend the moratorium to the advisory board in January.

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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