RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina would establish a government framework to regulate fracking, a much-debated natural gas drilling method that has been blamed for polluting water and even triggering earthquakes in other states, under legislation approved Wednesday by the state Senate.
Senators voted 29-19, mainly along party lines, to approve the measure and send it on to the state House for further consideration. Republican leaders in both chambers say they are working together to establish the gas-drilling regulatory framework.
The Senate's Republican majority turned away efforts to delay legislative action until potential problems are studied further. Environmentalists and residents in Piedmont counties are worried there aren't enough protections to prevent underground water supplies from becoming contaminated by the chemicals, water and sand that are injected into drilled wells to crack shale rock and free trapped natural gas.
"I don't care how many studies you cite," said Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph. "Let's put every option on the table and get on with it."
Another rejected amendment would have added two people representing local governments to the state's mining commission. Under the bill, the commission would draw up a comprehensive body of fracking regulations that the General Assembly would eventually have to approve or reject. Critics complain that the rule-writing commission is stacked on behalf of business interests, with seven of the commission's nine voting members representing the mining or oil and gas industries.
"I do not think that subcontracting regulations to the drilling industry is" the responsible way to study which regulations are best, said Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake. "It's not wise policymaking."
In recent years, fracking has become a hot topic in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia, which overlie a vast, gas-rich deposit called the Marcellus Shale. But the Carolinas may have their own natural gas reserves.
A newly released study by the U.S. Geological Survey estimates a 150-mile-long ancient trench running from the South Carolina border in Anson and Union counties to north of Durham held the greatest potential natural gas deposits out of five East Coast sources studied.
State geological survey chief Kenneth Taylor said that amounts to enough to supply North Carolina's demand for about 5 ½ years. A smaller line of deposits near Greensboro could meet the state's natural gas demand for 60 days, according to the study's estimates based on geological features.
Some estimates had projected a 40-year supply of natural gas concentrated around Lee, Moore and Chatham counties. Drilling supporters say the real reserves won't be known until exploration starts.
Emery Dalesio can be reached at —http://twitter.com/emerydalesio