The newly released 80 page report  from the experts at nonprofit group State Review of Oil & Natural Gas Environmental Regulations makes it clear: North Carolina needs a more robust regulatory infrastructure to handle any kind of significant increase in oil and gas exploration. Widespread drilling — much less fracking — are not the kind of issues for which it will be sufficient for state regulators to simply “wing it.”
Here’s how the report puts it:
The review team recognizes that North Carolina is evaluating the potential development of its oil and gas resources and is also evaluating changes that may be appropriate if that development were to occur. While this report makes no recommendations on whether or not such development should occur, the review team has made a number of recommendations for consideration if that development occurs. A summary of the more important recommendations follows.
I. Need to Develop Formal Standards
The review team found that there are few standards in place that would be applicable to an oil and gas regulatory program. When asked what standards would apply if an operator wanted to drill a well today, the review team was told that existing statutes and rules would be applied on a case-by-case basis.
The review team recognizes that, while this course of action might be workable when only a few permit applications are anticipated, it would not work well if the permit load increased significantly. Additionally, the potential operator and the public, as well as state agency staff, should know with some certainty what the regulatory expectations are before entering the permitting process. Consequently, the review team recommends that, if North Carolina develops an oil and gas regulatory program, formal standards and technical criteria meeting the Guidelines be developed.
II. Potential Need to Develop Oil and Gas Technical Criteria
While North Carolina has mature environmental regulatory programs, the programs have not needed to focus on regulating the impacts of oil and gas development. That may change depending on decisions made by the state. If North Carolina decides to develop an oil and gas regulatory program, that program should contain criteria to address oil and gas related activities, including administrative criteria, technical criteria related to exploration and production waste management, stormwater management, abandoned sites, naturally occurring radioactive materials, and hydraulic fracturing. The review team recommends that, should such a program be developed, the Guidelines be used, along with a review of programs of other states.
III. Potential Use of Stakeholder Groups in Program Development
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources generally involves stakeholder groups early in discussions of proposed rules that involve major policy changes or are the subject of significant public interest.
The review team recommends that, if North Carolina decides to develop an oil and gas regulatory program, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources continue to use independent scientific advisory groups, local advisory committees, groups of government, public and industry representatives, or other similar mechanisms, to obtain input and feedback in the development of the program.