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North Carolina Municipalities Creating Frack Laws

While the debate over hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the Cumnock Formation stalls in the North Carolina General Assembly, two municipalities have taken steps to regulate the practice locally.

Creedmoor Mayor Darryl Moss told NGI's Shale Daily his city council enacted a ban on fracking within the city limits last September over concerns that the headwaters of Falls Lake -- which provides drinking water to Raleigh and other municipalities in neighboring Wake County -- could be impacted.

"We think it could be [dangerous]," Moss said Friday. "But by no stretch am I an industry expert or an expert on fracturing. We've taken a good close look at this and are using a common sense approach. You hear stories on both sides. You hear that it is very safe and the industry has done a great job at doing what it's supposed to do. And then you hear the horror stories. I'm sure the truth probably resides somewhere in the middle."

Moss conceded that the city's primary concern was the possible preemption of local authority by two pieces of legislation at the state level.

The first bill in question, H242, directs the state's Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to conduct a review of oil and gas exploration, determine where fracking may occur and make recommendations by May 1 (see Shale Daily, June 22, 2011). Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue signed H242 into law on June 23.

Passage of a second bill -- S709, also known as the Energy Jobs Act -- has been much more contentious. Like H242, S709 also calls for a fracking study, but it would also allow offshore natural gas drilling and create an offshore energy compact with neighboring Virginia and South Carolina (see Shale Daily, April 28, 2011).

Perdue vetoed S709 on June 30, but the Republican-controlled Senate overrode her veto on July 13. To become law it must now pass the state House of Representatives, which is also controlled by Republicans. A vote in that chamber has not been scheduled yet, but it was placed on the calendar on July 25. The General Assembly convenes for its next biennium session on Feb. 16.

"We can easily be preempted by the General Assembly," Moss said. "I think it's going to happen. So we are taking a very close look at what we believe to be our statutory authority from a zoning standpoint to make sure that we can have some regulations on the above-ground activities."

Another municipality, the Town of Cary, is also taking up the fracking issue. At its meeting on Dec. 15, the town council ordered its staff to investigate the pros and cons of fracking and to report back to the council. The town is reportedly considering some form of regulation that would not only cover the town limits but also within its extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) limits.

"We didn't give [our staff] a time limit, so I don't know how long it will take for them to come back to us," Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht told NGI's Shale Daily on Friday. Weinbrecht said that, like Creedmoor, Cary may only be able to use local zoning laws to control fracking.

"We may be regulated [by the state]," Weinbrecht said. "They may dictate what we can and can't do. However, we can control the infrastrustucre that is needed for fracking through zoning if we want to control fracking. We haven't reached that decision yet. We're not really near a decision anytime soon. I'm guessing it may be the end of February."

Weinbrecht added that he and other city officials do not believe fracking poses a threat to Jordan Lake, Cary's source for water supplies; "however, we do have a lot of citizens with wells that they use for irrigation and other purposes. [Fracking] may impact those."

The DENR held its first public hearing on fracking on Oct. 10 (see Shale Daily, Oct. 12, 2011). Two additional hearings have been scheduled for March 20 in Sanford and March 27 in Chapel Hill.

Researchers from the North Carolina Geological Survey and the U.S. Geological Survey are 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).

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