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North Carolina to vote on lifting fracking ban

February 21, 2013
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The state of North Carolina is considering moves to lift the ban on hydraulic fracturing operations, despite concerns raised by green organizations that drilling works might pose a threat to the environment, the News Observer reported.

Last Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved new energy legislation that will lift the state's moratorium on fracking and provide incentives to encourage shale gas exploration. The bill now moves on to the Senate Commerce committee, where it will be voted on this week. If committee members vote in favor of the proposed bill, the ban on fracking will be lifted as of March 1, 2015.

Sen. E.S. "Buck" Newton, a Republican from Johnston, Nash and Wilson counties, commented that North Carolina needs the jobs that potential fracking operations might create and the United States as a whole needs the energy that shale gas can produce. The state is ready to welcome businesses in this sector, he added.

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The bill proposes a number of legislative changes that industry representatives wanted to see in place before pouring capital into the state economy, Newton explained. Together with other bill supporters, he would like to see North Carolina on top of investors' lists for shale gas exploration projects. However, supporters of the bill warned that the state should be careful not to repeat the situation in which New York failed to effectively lift the moratorium for three years.

If the bill is approved, this would basically eliminate all barriers against fracking and operators could be given their permits as early as two years from now, said Democratic Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., of Durham.

The new legislation would also require environmental regulators to facilitate business and create opportunities for the energy companies they oversee and would ban local authorities from taxing energy developers. In addition, it would do away with the state's landman registry for those who offer drilling leases to property owners.

According to the latest estimates, between 15 trillion and 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas lie under ground in North Carolina, which is 10 times more than previous estimates, Newton claimed. In 2012, the U.S. Geological Survey calculated that North Carolina had between 779 billion and 3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Newton noted that actual shale gas deposits in other parts of the country had proved substantially larger than provisional estimates before the actual fracking operation started.

Members of the committee who support the bill gave examples of the economic boom in other states that have allowed drilling operations. North Dakota, for instance, helped turn marginalized towns into thriving communities, where local fast food chains are paying as much as $15 per hour in order to be able to attract employees, said Sen. Harry Brown, a Republican from Onslow and Jones counties.

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