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This morning’s edition of the Greensboro News & Record has a fine editorial (“Whose property is it, anyway?”) that takes down one of the most pernicious aspects of fracking that was unaddressed by the state’s new law allowing the controversial energy drilling procedure: “forced pooling”:

“Forced pooling began with good intentions. It was meant to limit the number of wells and make sure that landowners weren’t denied payment for oil and gas lying below their property. Unfortunately, the practice can be turned against them.

Natural gas may lie below many properties. Owners can pool their interests to command a good price and limit how many wells are drilled. But, if a few owners won’t go along, they could block some of their neighbors from the pool or force the drilling of additional wells, raising costs. Laws in many states can compel them to join, awarding them a fair share of the proceeds and in some cases assigning them a portion of the costs.”

The editorial explains that Virginia just defeated a bill that would have allowed the practice there and and urges support for legislation by Rep. Bryan Holloway that would ban forced pooling in North Carolina too. One would think that such a measure — which Holloway rightfully defends as being about property rights — would be a no-brainer for conservatives, but it’s funny how sweet-talking by big energy companies has a way of trumping ideology for those on the right.

An informal poll on the N&R website yesterday found that readers opposed forced polling by a ratio of about 15 to 1. We’ll see who state legislators are listening to in the coming weeks: average people and landowners or fat cat energy lobbyists. Stay tuned.

Commentary

Offshore oil platformThe debate over fracking in North Carolina and the threat it poses to the long-term well-being of humans and the environment in certain parts of the state is obviously hugely important. But there’s a strong argument to be made that the threat from offshore oil and gas drilling is significantly larger and more worrisome.

Not only would offshore drilling and the potential for oil spills put thousands of miles of coastline, our wonderful beaches and estuaries and the fragile marine ecology of of our Outer Continental Shelf at perpetual risk, it would pose enormous threats to the overall way of life of the state’s coastal communities. Put simply: Do we really want to turn the North Carolina coast into Louisiana?

If you share some or all of these concerns, there are two things to do:

#1 – Consider submitting comments to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management by Next Monday March 30. The good folks at the N.C. Coastal Federation have an “how to” here and here.

#2 – Attend the upcoming Crucial Conversation luncheon with expert Sierra Weaver of the Southern Environmental Law Center. Here are the details:

When: Tuesday, April 7, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Click here for parking info.

Space is limited – preregistration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.

Click here to register

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com

Commentary

frackOn the day it has become legal under state law to apply for a fracking permit in North Carolina, advocates at Environment North Carolina joined with a group of state lawmakers at the Legislative Building this afternoon to make clear that the controversial drilling procedure will not commence in the Tar Heel state without a fight.

Armed with a damning new report on the myriad problems to which fracking has given rise in Pennsylvania (“Fracking Failures: Oil and Gas Industry Environmental Violations in Pennsylvania and What They Mean for the U.S.”) and forecasting litigation if any permits are approved by the state Mining and Energy Commission, the advocates and legislators addressed a gaggle of cameras and reporters at a press conference and made clear that the battle over fracking in North Carolina is far from over.

According to Environment North Carolina spokesperson Liz Kazal, “North Carolinians are no longer guaranteed safety” from an industry in which “every company is a bad actor.” Pointing to the disastrous results in Pennsylvania — where, she said, there have been at least 243 examples of drinking water contamination as the result of fracking and where the top 20 polluters have racked up more than one significant regulatory violation per day for years — Kazal argued that the only responsible course for North Carolina lawmakers is to reinstate the moratorium on fracking until, at a minimum, much tougher rules can be enacted.

In echoing Kazal’s call for a reinstatement of a moratorium, Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County observed that North Carolina is, without any kind of history in the oil and gas drilling field, essentially making up the rules in this area “from whole cloth” and breaking previous promises made by fracking advocates in the General Assembly that the state would have the strongest environmental protection rules in the country. She added that lawsuits challenging any approved permits under other state environmental protection laws are a virtual certainty should the Mining and Energy Commission approve any permits. She went on to note that given the current economics of the industry, the only fracking businesses likely to even try the controversial process here would be so-called “wildcatters” — i.e. small, independent outfits with less experience than major energy companies and the very kind of actors most likely to have accidents and cause pollution. Read More

Commentary

The Fayetteville Observer gets it right this morning with this editorial on the future of fracking in North Carolina — which becomes legal in the state today. After noting how the plummeting price of natural gas has slowed the fracking boom and may keep drillers away from North Carolina, the editorial puts it this way:

“But despite the less-than-rosy outlook, lawmakers remain eager to ensure that no obstacles hinder drillers. They hurried last week to pass legislation that forbids state regulators from imposing air-emission rules on fracking that are more stringent than federal standards – which are meant as minimums. So much for legislative vows that we’d have the most stringent fracking regulations in the country. We won’t.

As with so many environmental regulatory issues, government leaders see the primary customer as business and industry, whose interests appear to rank ahead of the health and safety of the people of North Carolina.

At the 2015 Sandhills Clean Energy Summit on Saturday, Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat, blasted the priorities of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources: ‘DENR, unfortunately, has become not the guardian of sustainability, but the second-best, most-genuflecting Department of Commerce in North Carolina.’

If North Carolina has an abundant gas resource, companies will want to mine it and will work with our regulations – which really should be strong. We don’t need to put out an “I’m easy” sign.

In matters like this, protecting the people is government’s top job. But our leaders aren’t even pretending.”

Meanwhile, advocates at Environment NC will hold a press briefing today at the General Assembly along with several legislators from areas likely to be fracked to release a new report that may well foreshadow what’s ahead in North Carolina. The report details the numerous environmental violations by the fracking industry in Pennsylvania – a place in which many rural communities have experienced a sharp decline in quality of life as a result of the industry’s proliferation. Stay tuned.

Commentary

Anti-frackWhen state lawmakers passed a law to allow the introduction of fracking into North Carolina a couple of years ago, proponents promised the public that the state would have the strongest possible environmental protection rules. Today, the state House took one of what will undoubtedly be a repeated series of steps to walk away from that assurance.

Despite strong objections from environmental advocates, lawmakers hurriedly approved a bill that repeals the current law which requires the adoption of state air quality rules by the agency charged with overseeing fracking — the state Mining and Energy Commission. In other words, rather than adopting North Carolina-specific air quality rules for fracking operations (something on which the Commission was already working), the Commission will now be free to take a pass and simply defer to the rudimentary and inadequate federal rules.

Today’s vote occurred in spite of the strong objections of environmental experts like Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County, who explained that the federal rules basically exempt small “wildcat” operations — i.e. the very (and only) kind of gas exploration outfits that North Carolina is likely to attract given its unproven natural gas reserves. While federal rules do a better job of governing larger operations of the kind run by big energy firms, those companies aren’t likely to come to North Carolina anytime soon.

The bottom line: North Carolina took another step toward toward bringing fracking to the state today and it did so in such a way that increases the likelihood that citizens and our natural environment will be exposed to dangerous air pollutants.