Commentary

The lowdown on NC’s new fracking rules

FrackingAs you may have heard, North Carolina’s Mining and Energy Commission held the last in a series of meetings last Friday during which they considered public feedback on the draft fracking rules. Despite having received over 200,000 public comments over the last few months, the Commission only made a few little changes to the rules. They have now come up with a finalized set of rules which will eventually make its way to the General Assembly, where it is likely to be approved. Given that fracking may begin in North Carolina as early as next year, you may want to know a thing or two about these rules.

The majority of the public comments called for stricter safety rules. In response, the Commission made some of the following changes:

  • Unannounced inspections will be permitted – the rules will now allow inspections to take place without prior notice to drillers, in order to encourage the drillers to maintain ongoing compliance.
    (BUT note: the rule is just providing permission, it is neither requiring that inspections take place nor requiring that they take place with regular frequency)
  • Amount of time for permit application to be approved or denied will be increased to 180 days – this allows the public to have more notice and opportunity to comment on the request.
  • So-called “fluid pits” will be required to be larger and continuous monitoring will be required – fracking fluid is held in large open pits, which can be a huge safety hazard. The Commission did not ban open fluid pits but rather just increased their size, in order to prevent spills, and increased the frequency of monitoring for leakage into the ground, from monthly to continuous.

Among the items the rules don’t address:

  • Toxic air emissions from fracking operations – are not addressed by the rules at all, however they are a well-documented cause of health problems in other states that allow fracking.
  • Compulsory pooling – the Commission made no rules to regulate compulsory pooling, which is currently permitted by NC law. Compulsory pooling allows adjoined properties to be gathered together to form sufficient acreage for a drilling permit, without requiring the permission of the landowner (which means fracking can take place on your land even if you don’t want it to).
  • Groundwater contamination – no rules were put in place regarding NC water-quality standards. NC currently does not have limits on fracking chemicals and contaminates, which puts groundwater at risk for contamination from the wastewater produced by fracking.

Unfortunately, the list of issues unresolved by the rules does not end here. There are many other health and safety concerns that have not yet been addressed, such as long term health effects for fracking workers and the lack of chemical disclosure requirements. For more information see http://frackfreenc.org/wp-content/uploads/Response-to-the-final-fracking-rule-package-11-6-14-1-1.pdf.

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