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NC legislature gives fracking final approval

North Carolina’s legislature, in a fast flurry Thursday, approved the state’s issuing permits for fracking for natural gas.

Turning down a string of Democratic amendments, the North Carolina House gave the bill final approval on a 64-50 vote. Hours later the Senate agreed to the House changes, 33-12, without debate.

With Gov. Pat McCrory’s expected signature, the state could begin issuing permits next spring.

House members voted to deny debate on five amendments. They started with Charlotte Democrat Becky Carney’s attempt to remove provisions that allow the state to start issuing permits 61 days after fracking rules are approved.

Carney said the provisions reneged on lawmakers’ promises two years ago to take legislative action on fracking rules, which are still being developed, before permits start going out.

“We made a promise. Now let’s stand up for that promise that we made,” Carney said.

Republican leaders say the two-year moratorium on permits won’t be lifted until rules are in place, fulfilling their promise. The bill allows the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources to begin issuing permits 61 days after drilling rules are approved, unless lawmakers take the unlikely step of blocking the rules.

Democrats fought in vain to add provisions on air emissions, drilling worker housing, disposal of fracking wastes and public disclosure of fracking chemicals. They debated at length a part of the bill that calls for further study of “forced pooling,” in which the property of unwilling owners can be tapped.

“We will end up with landowners being forced to give up control of their property as they have historically, and we do it only for the greed of a few companies,” said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland.

Republican leaders said most states allow forced pooling and the practice can serve to protect property owners financially if they refuse to allow drilling.

“We’re going to hear a lot of frightening talk about things that are not in this bill,” said Rep. Bill Brawley, a Matthews Republican. “I read the bill. It ain’t great, but I’m supporting it.”

McCrory praised the bill.

“We have sat on the sidelines as a state for far too long on gas exploration and having North Carolina create jobs and also help with our country’s energy independence. Instead we are pumping in natural gas from other states,” he said in a statement.

“So we are all using that natural gas; but for whatever reason we are thinking if we do it here, it’s wrong but if we take it from someplace else it’s right. That’s very hypocritical.”

The Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group, said legislators jumped the gun in allowing fracking.

“Some of the rules are strong, like those on well construction. Others miss the mark,” said senior analyst David Kelly. “The proposed wastewater rules mistakenly allow treated wastewater from oil and gas operations to be discharged into rivers and streams. What’s troubling is that the state has no water quality standards for many of the contaminants in the wastewater.”

Anti-fracking protesters rallied outside the legislative building before the House vote, vowing to “remember in November” elections the lawmakers who voted for the bill.

Henderson: 704-358-5051; Twitter: @bhender
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