Energy legislation introduced Thursday in the N.C. Senate would pave the way for exploratory shale gas drilling this spring and includes an extra measure of protections for the state’s residents and environment.
The bill could receive its first public hearing as early as next week before the Senate Commerce Committee. It creates a legal framework for the 120 safety rules being completed by the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission that will require legislative approval to become final.
Among its key features, it would allow energy companies to exempt fracking chemicals from public disclosure under a “trade secret” clause, but the confidential data would be held by the State Geologist and released to medical personnel and first responders during an emergency.
The bill also includes a presumptive liability for water contamination on the energy company, and requires well water testing before gas drilling begins of all water wells within a half-mile of the drill derrick.
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It requires energy companies to submit their record of past violations and penalties that could be used as a basis for denying a drilling permit here.
The bill also takes away some local rights. It invalidates any local or county ordinance that would interfere or ban fracking. And it has a provision not related to energy exploration that would restrict any county or city tax increase to 8 percent.
The legislation disbands the 2-year-old Mining and Energy Commission and replaces it next year with an Oil and Gas Commission to administer civil penalties and adopt new fracking rules as necessary. It also creates a Mining Commission to issue permits and create new fracking rules.