NC Rules Review Commission approves regulations needed for new fracking permits

Energy Associated Press

A state panel's approval of regulations for fracking should allow North Carolina lawmakers to take the matter up next year on the schedule envisioned by Republican legislative leaders.

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The state Rules Review Commission on Wednesday approved the regulations with the understanding that technical corrections for 13 of them would be worked out between now and January, said Vikram Rao, chairman of the North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission. Rao said he expects the Legislature to receive the set of rules in January.

"Considering that the total in front of them exceeded 120 rules and the short time to do it, just 13 requiring adjustment is an amazingly good outcome," he said in an email.

Prior to Wednesday's meeting, the Rules Review Commission's staff attorney had argued three rules included substantial changes from versions previously put out for public comment, said Mining and Energy Commission member James Womack. Had the Rules Review Commission rejected those rules, they could have been subject to revision or another comment period — which could have delayed the issuing of fracking permits.

The Mining and Energy Commission had given its own approval to the rules a month ago after considering public comments and making revisions. The measures covered items like chemical disclosure, well shafts, water storage, water testing and buffer zones.

The rules now head to the Legislature, which has the final say during the session that starts next month.

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Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed a law last summer clearing the way for permits to be issued next year for fracking, which involves injecting water, sand and chemicals to break apart underground rocks so oil and gas can escape.

Scientists believe pockets of natural gas exist in layers of shale under Chatham, Lee and Moore counties southwest of Raleigh, but there are disputes about how much is there.

David McGowan, executive director of the North Carolina Petroleum Council, said the commission's decision moves the state further toward developing resources that will lower energy prices and help the state "become a magnet for investment and job creation."

Mary Maclean Asbill, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, attended Wednesday's meeting and said that while each commission did a good job of sorting out the issues, the Legislature had created an unreasonable schedule.

"Yesterday's RRC meeting highlighted how aggressive and unreasonable the rulemaking schedule was from the get go," she said.

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Information from: The News & Observer, http://www.newsobserver.com