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 (see Daily GPI, July 6).

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 (see Daily GPI, July 15).

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 Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to conduct a review of oil and gas exploration in the state and report its findings and recommendations by May 1, 2012. Perdue signed H242 into law on June 23.

The DENR was scheduled to hold the first of three public hearings on fracking on Monday evening at the McSwain Extension Education & Agriculture Center in Sanford, NC. At least one more meeting is planned during the winter. DENR spokeswoman Trina Ozer told NGI that the agency 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 Monday.

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).

“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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