The N.C. Senate voted Thursday to lift the state’s fracking moratorium and agreed to remove several controversial provisions before sending the legislation to the state House, where it is expected to undergo further revisions and face a much closer vote.
Thursday’s 36-11 vote followed a Wednesday vote to lift the moratorium. But on Thursday, the Senate agreed to make the bill more palatable to fracking skeptics.
A proposed penalty for disclosing fracking chemicals deemed trade secrets was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor. Senators also agreed to require that fracking operators have a bond for at least $1 million to protect the state and its residents against accidents and other potential damage.
The bill, named the Energy Modernization Act, would allow the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to start issuing drilling permits on July 1, 2015. Under the current law, drilling permits can’t be issued until the legislature adopts safety rules to govern fracking.
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Those rules are on a parallel track at the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission, which plans to hold a series of public hearings on 120 proposed rules and send them to the legislature as early as this fall. The commission was created by the legislature two years ago.
The potential that lawmakers could spend months tinkering with the rules has prompted Republican fracking boosters in the Senate to put an expiration date on the drilling moratorium. They hope the deadline will prevent prolonged legislative debate on the rules and send a clear signal to the energy industry that North Carolina encourages shale gas exploration.
The House could take up the bill as early as next week. A proposal to lift the moratorium failed in the House last year.