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Public Meetings Scheduled On Fracking Issue

North Carolina residents now have the opportunity to affect fracking policy. The state Mining and Energy Commission is accepting comments and suggestions regarding their proposed regulations. Lee Jenkins has more.

Since Governor McCrory’s passage of the Energy Modernization Act in June, the Commission has drafted a plethora of rules and regulations for the now-legal process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking involves pumping high-pressure mixtures into shale deposits, causing them to crack and release the fossil fuels contained within. In North Carolina, the shale-rich basins ripe for fracking are located in Chatham and Lee Counties. The process does run the risk of contaminating the soil and groundwater, if both the fossil fuels and the mixture escape during the process. Furthermore, a University of Texas at Austin study has proven that the chemical disposal wells that store the used hydraulic mixture can cause earthquakes. However, those wells are already illegal in North Carolina, and the proposed rules extend far beyond disposal measures. Commissioner Jim Womack:

“We’ve written roughly 105 or so rules that address the full range of oil and gas regulations. Everything from the development of a oil and gas well, the well construction, the site development, the water and waste management…there’s a wide range of rules that’ve been written.”

Prior to implementing these rules, the Commission is subjecting them to public scrutiny. Fracking is something of a controversial issue thanks to its benefits and costs, and the Commission would like to address any concerns citizens may have before they move forward. To this end, they’ve planned a handful of public hearings focused on discussing the regulation of fracking.

“One will be held in August the 20th in Raleigh, one will be held August 22nd in Sanford, and one will be held August 25th in Rockingham County, at the Rockingham County High School.”

Attendees will be able to suggest modifications for the Commission’s fracking policies, either by speaking with the hearing’s panel or submitting a written comment. While the Commission is legally obligated to consider and address all comments and suggestions, articulate, factually based comments carry greater significance.

“The better developed the comment is, and the better researched, and the more logical and appropriate the comment, the more weight and gravity we’ll give that comment.”

Those unable to attend the hearings can still submit comments via mail or email. The addresses are available at the Mining and Energy Commission’s website. Comments will be taken until September 15th. Potential drilling can begin as early as 60 days after the General Assembly’s adoption of the proposed rules. However, it could be several months before any operations commence.

“The actuality is that only industry will be able to tell that, and it will really be determined by a number of factors: the price of natural gas and natural gas liquids, the cost of start-up operations in the state, whether or not the legislature adopts our rules as written…if they change a lot of our rules or reject some of our rules and leave an incomplete ruleset, that could affect the startup operation. There are a lot of things that could alter the landscape for the drilling company.”

According to Womack, the very earliest drilling could occur in the summer of 2015. For Public Radio East, I’m Lee Jenkins.