The N.C. Houses majority whip said Friday he has reservations about a Senate bill that would lift North Carolinas ban on fracking for natural gas in 2015.
Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, spoke at a conference on fracking at UNC Charlottes Energy Production & Infrastructure Center. Hager chairs the House Public Utilities and Energy committee.
Last year the legislature created a commission to write new rules regulating hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, by October 2014. But this year the Senate passed a bill that would let the state begin issuing permits in March 2015.
That timetable could leave legislators little time to review the rules before they take effect.
Hager said hes also concerned that the measure ends required registration of landmen who lease drilling rights from landowners. He said he has huge heartburn that the bill would allow fluids from fracking wells in the Piedmont to be injected deep underground on the coastal plain.
All I can tell you is (the bill) wont look like it does now if it gets through the House, Hager said.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates North Carolinas 150-mile-long Deep River Basin, which cuts diagonally across the states midsection, could yield 779 billion to 3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Others have estimated about 1 trillion cubic feet, enough to supply the states needs for two or three years.
But the Republicans who control state government have made exploiting the states energy resources a priority. Some believe those estimates could greatly understate the deposits.
We have no idea what we actually have, said Mitch Gillespie, a former legislator who became an assistant state environment secretary this year in Gov. Pat McCrorys administration.
Gillespie said theres new evidence of gas deposits in Cherokee County, on the states western end. He predicted exploratory, non-fracking drilling will begin in the Deep Rivers sweet spot of Lee County within six months.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Gillespie said, will support protective measures including multiple well casings to prevent groundwater contamination, berms to collect wastewater from drilling sites and limits on water withdrawals for drilling.
States with widespread fracking vary in how much they make drilling companies disclose about whats in the fluid used to pressure gas out of underground shale pores, said Clemson University hydrogeologist Lawrence Murdoch. The water that flows back out of the well often has radioactive elements, salts and metals that have to be disposed.
Studies have shown a correlation between fracking wells and methane found in groundwater, Murdoch said. Because methane occurs naturally, he said, the link is hard to prove.
As shale gas supplies swelled, prices for natural gas plummeted. North Carolina customers of Charlotte-based Piedmont Natural Gas save an average of $400 a year compared with their costs in 2008, said senior vice president Frank Yoho.
Cheap, cleaner-burning gas also is accelerating the retirement of coal-burning power plants by Duke Energy and other utilities. U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have fallen to levels not seen in 20 years.
Speaker Seamus McGraw, who has two wells on his northeastern Pennsylvania property, wrote about the dual nature of fracking in his 2011 book, The End of Country.
Anybody who tells you there are not profound risks in drilling shale for natural gas is misleading you, he said. But anybody who tells you there are not extreme benefits is doing the same thing.
Henderson: 704-358-5051 Twitter: @bhender
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