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The NC Senate could give final approval as early as Thursday to a bill that would lift the state’s moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. Members passed the Energy Modernization Act Wednesday 33-13, despite appeals that more study was needed before allowing the state to begin issuing fracking permits in July of 2015.

Senator Buck Newton, a chief sponsor of the bill, criticized Democrats who repeatedly tried to amend the legislation:

“If five years isn’t long enough to figure out how to do it, when all the other states in the country
are figuring our how to do it, how long does it take? 100 years? 200 years? Never? Eternity?” questioned Newton.

Senator Gene McLaurin, an oil and gas company president representing Richmond County, acknowledged the energy bill had led to some soul-searching:

“I love this state too much to make what could be a hasty decision.”

McLaurin was among those voting against the bill Wednesday.

One more vote on Senate Bill 786, and the measure is off to the NC House.

To hear a portion of  the debate on the Senate floor, click below.

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The N.C. Mining and Energy Commission has finalized the proposed safety regulations that companies will need to follow in order to frack for natural gas in our state. Over the past 18 months the commission has adopted 120 rules they believe will ensure that hydraulic fracturing can be done safely.

Still environmentalists worry the process has been rushed. Mary Maclean Asbill with the North Carolina Environmental Partnership and Southern Environmental Law Center says there are very real concerns that fracking will contaminate the state’s groundwater.  Asbill appeared last weekend on News and Views with Chris Fitzsimon to discuss the coalition’s concerns. (Click below to hear an excerpt of that interview; the full radio segment is available here.)

The next step will be a series of public hearings this August in Wake, Lee and Rockingham counties, giving citizens one last chance to weigh in. The Commission is slated to present the rules to the General Assembly by October.

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There’s been some news of interest recently about Chesapeake Energy, one of the natural-gas companies behind the push for North Carolina to lift its ban on fracking, the controversial drilling method for natural gas.

The company is facing charges of conspiring to fix land prices, and of shorting landowners royalty payments in order to keep the company afloat.

FrackingAs the Carolina Mercury pointed out last week, Chesapeake Energy was one of two energy companies indicted in Michigan this month on criminal charges of conspiring to keep property prices low in an area over a shale belt.

(The criminal charges and an ongoing federal anti-trust investigation stemmed from reporting by Reuters. Click here to read more.)

Here in North Carolina, Chesapeake Energy took legislators on fact-finding trips to Pennsylvania in 2011, as the lawmakers were considering a bill that eventually lifted the ban on fracking.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing involves setting of explosions deep into wells in the ground and then blasting with water and chemicals in order to extract natural gas caught in shale layers. There’s particular interest in bringing fracking to the Sandhills area of the state where a large underground shale belt straddles Lee and Chatham counties. (Scroll below or click here to see a map of shale deposits.)

The state’s Energy and Mining Commission is working to put rules in place before drilling can begin in 2015.  Many of the chemicals used in fracking have had links to cancer and other health problems, and groundwater contamination has been reported in other areas of the nation.

Chesapeake Energy has also run into financial problems because of the drops in natural gas pricing,  and apparently edged itself away from the brink of financial collapse in the last few years by cutting back on the royalties paid to landowners, according to a new report out today.

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North Carolina’s natural environment has been inundated with a lot of poison in recent days — so much, in fact, that a lot of folks may have forgotten the fact that state leaders are pushing hard to inject a lot more poison into the ground and water in the coming years. Happily, one of the state’s most celebrated native sons is speaking out against it in an ad on behalf of the good folks at the Natural Resources Defense Council.  Click below to watch it.

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John SkvarlaOne of the signature “accomplishments” of conservative state leadership in North Carolina in recent years has been the steady and ongoing rollback of state environmental protection laws and regulations. This is not to imply that the state has ever done enough — even under past General Assemblies and governors — to truly protect our ever-more-fragile air, land and water, but it’s also clear that things have gotten much, much worse in recent years.

Whether it’s the efforts to deny climate change and sea-level rise, fast-track fracking and off-shore oil drilling, stop efforts to clean up Jordan Lake, build artificial sea walls along the coast, roll back scores of rules and regulations, pack various commissions and boards with advocates hostile to environmental protection, limit land preservation, slash funding or just defund, demoralize, break up and change the mission statement of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources itself, the conservative agenda has been (and continues to be) a long and ambitious one.

Fortunately, one of the chief architects of the effort, DENR Secretary John Skvarla, has some advice for his agency employees who may feel a sense of discouragement at their increasingly disfavored status: Don’t worry, be happy! Read More