Mining and Energy Commission to wrap up discussion and vote on fracking rules for NC

The state Mining and Energy Commission planned to meet Friday for a final discussion on rules for fracking in North Carolina before voting on them.

The meeting was to start with a discussion of revisions to draft rules for the hydraulic fracturing method of drilling for oil and gas. Panel leaders hoped to vote during the meeting, but they have a backup date scheduled for next week if they can't finish their discussion.

After the vote, the rules will be handed over to the state Rules Review Commission before the Legislature has the final say during its session that starts in January.

Approval of the rules would be an important step toward making sure fracking can begin on the timeframe desired by Republican leaders. Gov. Pat McCrory signed a law over the summer clearing the way for permits to be issued as soon as next spring for fracking, which involves injecting water, sand and chemicals to break apart underground rocks so oil and gas can escape.

At meetings last week, the Mining and Energy Commission discussed rule changes recommended in a report by three members who oversaw the gathering of public comments. The panel generally agreed on the changes, but commissioners had until the end of Wednesday to offer further input on the rules before their planned vote.

The rule changes included ones that would allow the state to inspect hydraulic fracturing operations without warning and halt work if necessary. Other changes would ensure fracking records are permanently archived and add a new setback distance to protect municipal water supplies.

The state received nearly 220,000 public comments on the more than 100 draft rules.

Fracking proponents say it can be done safely and that affordable natural gas helps manufacturers create more jobs. Representatives of the oil and gas industry say they think the state's rules are fair.

Opponents, however, fear toxic chemicals could escape the wells and argue the rules don't do enough to protect the state.