Lawmakers passed a substitute piece of legislation Tuesday that carves out a path to allow the controversial method of drilling for natural gas to begin as soon as July 2015.
The bill, in a surprise move, was then rushed to a Senate Finance Committee hearing scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.
The proposed language for Senate Bill 786  got initial approval in the Senate Commerce Committee and will continue to move through the legislature.
A state Senator also temporarily restricting recordings of Tuesday’s meeting, resulting in the confiscation of one reporter’s recorder. Read more about that here .
Among the proposals discussed Tuesday afternoon were:
- The mix of chemicals used in hydraulic fracking would remain a “trade secret” shielded from the public. First responders would find out what’s in those chemicals immediately after an emergency, and improper disclosure of the information would mean a low-level felony.
- The newest version of the bill cuts back on the area oil and gas companies are liable if there’s water contamination nearing a drilling site. Tuesday’s bill cuts that to a half-mile radius of a wellhead, down from the nearly one-mile radius listed in 2011 legislation.
- A whole host of studies are ordered up in the bill, from looking at whether a liquified natural gas (LNG) export facility is needed in North Carolina to how local community colleges can prepare future workers in the industry.
- Local counties and cities won’t be able to ban, restrict or tax the drilling process.
Environmental groups like the Sierra Club criticized the new bill on several fronts, including setting a time table to issue permits before the lengthy rule-making process is completing and making the disclosure of the mix of chemicals used by companies a felony, a punitive punishment than what would exist for other disclosures of business information.
“The theory behind protection of trade secrets is that disclosure hurts the company’s wallet and so there needs to be a means to recover economic damages that result, “said Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, communications director for the NC Sierra Club. “The theory behind this provision seems to be intimidation. This appears to be another special provision to protect companies like Halliburton at the expense of the public’s right to know.”
Below is an analysis  from legislative staff of what the new language of the bill will do: