The N.C. Mining and Energy Commission was flooded with more than 200,000 public comments on its proposed safety standards for shale gas exploration in the state, but the commissioners are not likely to act on the public’s most sweeping demands to curtail fracking.
The commission will consider tightening several important safety standards, however, such as the minimum distance required between drilling operations and water sources that feed municipal drinking water. That safety buffer had been proposed at 650 feet, but commissioners will consider extending it to 1,500 feet.
The commission will meet Thursday and Friday to discuss proposed changes to 124 rules it has drafted over the past two years. It will consider recommended changes based on citizen comments made between July 14 and Sept. 30 in writing and at four public hearings.
The recommendations are included in a 40-page report prepared by the hearing officers who presided over the public hearings in August and September. The report, released Wednesday, belies the charge that the Mining and Energy Commission is deaf to public concerns, said Chairman Vikram Rao.
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“Some people expected us to do nothing, and they actually said that,” Rao said. “And some expected us to make cosmetic changes.”
Fracking remains under a moratorium in North Carolina but is expected to become legal next year after the Mining and Energy Commission’s rules are considered by the state legislature.
According to the hearing officers’ report, 30,029 people and organizations submitted a total of 217,285 comments on the commission’s proposed fracking rules.
Some urged the commission to issue an outright ban on fracking, or prohibit energy companies from claiming trade secrets to exempt certain chemicals from public disclosure. The commission lacks the legal authority to take such steps, the hearing officers’ report said.
The hearing officers did recommend several significant changes, Rao noted. One would require archiving the oil-and-gas company records permanently rather than for 5 years.
Another would allow unannounced inspections of drill sites and other oil-and-gas operations.
And another would allow state officials to issue a “stop work” order against suspected violators during enforcement actions.
But most of the proposed changes would tighten language and clear up ambiguities.
Some of these changes are as infinitesimal as subbing “fluid” for “slurry,” “constructed” for “completed,” and defining the term “barrel.”