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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

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

There are two excellent reads over on the main Policy Watch site today that you should check out if you haven’t already.

#1 is this excellent and sobering analysis of North Carolina’s new fracking rules and the shortcomings therein by Sarah Kellogg of of the environmental advocacy group Appalachian Voices. As Kellogg writes before outlining the detailing the failures:

The North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission (MEC) issued its final vote on proposed changes to the rules regulating the process of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas (i.e. fracking) last Friday. As you’ve probably heard by now, the panel voted unanimously to approve the rule set.

What you may not know is that between July 14 and Sept. 30, the MEC received 217,000 public comments on more than 100 draft rules regarding safety standards for fracking in the state. More than 2,000 North Carolinians attended the commission’s four public hearings, and the vast majority of speakers opposed fracking and asked for stronger rules. The MEC’s response, written in a hearing officer’s report released two weeks ago, showed a considerable lack of consideration for public comments, a fact that disappointed concerned citizens and advocates across the state. Almost all of the recommendations fell short of what the public overwhelmingly asked for, and the few recommendations that strengthen the rules do so quite minimally.

Must read #2 is this news story by NC Policy Watch Reporter Sarah Ovaska about some equally troubling developments at a public charter school in western North Carolina:

Read More

Commentary

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: Read More

Commentary

This morning’s Winston-Salem Journal is on the mark in decrying the McCrory administration’s inexcusable and all-too-predictable secrecy in discussions surrounding oil and gas development along the North Carolina coast. As the editorial notes:

When it comes to North Carolina’s coast and processes that affect all of us, the McCrory administration needs to stop meeting behind closed doors.

State officials, along with officials from South Carolina and Virginia, met privately last week with federal regulators and groups funded by oil and gas companies to discuss plans for drilling off the Atlantic coast, The Associated Press reported. Reporters and members of environmental groups were excluded until the conclusion of the meeting at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh….

The rationale offered for the closed meeting was that organizers wanted “to avoid any potential for real or perceived conflicts of interest,” according to Donald van der Vaart, the energy policy adviser for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Re-sources.

But meeting with only parties that are amenable to profiting from offshore drilling creates just that impression….

If we do enter into offshore drilling, if our leaders can convince us it’s the right thing to do, it must be done responsibly and with adequate protective measures. The people of North Carolina must be included in the process from beginning to end.

Our coast is a natural treasure that supports a lucrative tourism industry. Before any drilling begins, we need to be sure that money-making treasure won’t be put at risk. But we’ll never be able to discern that through closed doors.

Click here to read the entire editorial.