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North Carolina Holds First Public Hearing on Fracking

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) held the first of three public hearings on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) Monday evening at the McSwain Extension Education & Agriculture Center in Sanford, NC.

DENR spokeswoman Trina Ozer told NGI's Shale Daily that most of the approximately 35 people who spoke at the meeting were opposed to drilling for natural gas in the state's Cumnock Formation. She said about 250 people were able to attend the meeting but many others had to be turned away.

"It wasn't a hostile or contested meeting," Ozer said Tuesday. "I thought everyone was calm and people just spoke their mind."

Ozer said the agency was planning to conduct at least one more meeting this winter. She said the DENR has received about 500 public comments on fracking since Sept. 23.

"We're trying to firm up the dates for the next two public hearings within the next couple of weeks," Ozer said.

Researchers from the North Carolina Geological Survey and the U.S. Geological Survey are currently studying how much shale gas may be recoverable from the Cumnock, an 800-foot interval of organic-rich black shale under 25,000 acres in Lee and Chatham counties at depths of less than 3,000 feet (see Daily GPI, Aug. 27, 2010).

Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to muster enough votes in the North Carolina House of Representatives to override Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue's veto of an energy bill that would allow onshore hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and offshore natural gas drilling to proceed.

Perdue vetoed S709 -- also known as the Energy Jobs Act -- on June 30, declaring it unconstitutional because it called for her to enter into an offshore energy compact with neighboring Virginia and South Carolina. She said that proviso infringed on the powers assigned to the governor.

But the Republican-controlled Senate disagreed, and voted 31-17 to override Perdue's veto on July 13. Supporters of the bill had just enough votes to clear the three-fifths (60%) threshold needed for a successful override.

To become law, S709 must now pass the state House of Representatives, which is also controlled by Republicans, by a three-fifths vote. The bill was ratified 69-42 by the House on June 18. If a similar vote total occurs the override will be successful.

"We've been working very hard to get the votes and we're close," Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Raleigh), one of S709's sponsors, told the Lincoln Tribune. "I think it's within one or two votes."

Both chambers of the General Assembly will reconvene on Nov. 7.

The federal government estimates that nearly 30 Tcf of natural gas lies off the coast of North and South Carolina and Virginia. Active offshore leases in North Carolina -- which comprise two individual lease blocks, each about nine square nautical miles in size -- reportedly contain about 5 Tcf of economically recoverable natural gas.

S709 and a companion bill -- H242, which passed the House by a 107-0 vote on June 17 -- direct the DENR to conduct a review of oil and gas exploration in the state and report its findings and recommendations by May 1, 2012 (see Shale Daily, June 22). Perdue signed H242 into law on June 23.

"Other states that are doing this -- Texas and Louisiana and Pennsylvania -- are doing this and are having the least economic pain from the recession," Rucho said. "Why not North Carolina?"

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