UPDATED: House and Senate lawmakers agreed Tuesday to delay lifting the moratorium on fracking until after the final rules are approved, rather than set a hard date of July 1, 2015.
The compromise clears a major hurdle between the legislative chambers on a measure to establish the framework for natural gas drilling in central North Carolina, but it doesn’t resolve all the conflicts.
Meeting in a rare evening session, a House energy committee tweaked the legislation to allow the state to issue drilling permits 60 days after the rules developed by the Mining and Energy Commission are approved. The final rules are expected in January.
The bill – SB786 – won approval in a voice vote with Democrats objecting, citing concerns about contaminated drinking water and harmful affects to the environment.
Republican Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews, the bill’s chief sponsor, presented the bill to the committee. He agreed to the amendment but the Senate must vote on the new language at a later date.
The change may allow the issuance of permits sooner than July 1, 2015, but Rep. Mike Stone, a Sanford Republican leading the effort in the House, said he expects it will come later in the year, possibly September.
Another amendment will require the state to review the recent track-record for companies seeking to drill before granting a permit.
The House did not address Gov. Pat McCrory’s concern with a provision that prohibits local governments from setting tougher environmental regulations on fracking. But more changes are expected when it moves to House Finance. It could come before the floor as early as this week.
Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat, asked why the bill was being fast-tracked. “It’s a very troubling bill that deserves more thought,” she added.
Responding to her concerns, Sen. Buck Newton, a Wilson Republican pushing bill, said “North Carolina needs the jobs and America needs the energy, that’s the short answer to your question.”