Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly were able to override Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of a bill to legalize hydraulic fracturing (fracking) after a voting error by a Democratic lawmaker.

Rep. Becky Carney (D-Mecklenburg), an opponent of fracking, pushed the wrong button during a July 2 vote and accidentally sided with Republicans to override Perdue’s veto of SB 820. Carney’s mistake gave Republicans the three-fifths majority needed for the override, with a final tally of 71-47. Earlier that evening, the Senate also voted in favor of an override, 29-13.

The override was a stinging rebuke for Perdue, who had vetoed the bill on July 1.

“It’s disappointing that the leaders in the General Assembly would allow fracking without ensuring that adequate protections will be in place for drinking water, landowners, county and municipal governments, and the health and the safety of families in North Carolina,” Perdue said. “I hope the General Assembly will revisit this issue and strengthen the safeguards before fracking begins.”

Marty Durbin, executive vice president for the American Petroleum Institute, commended the General Assembly for enacting a law that allows fracking to move forward.

“After a commendable state study of shale energy issues, active public input and thorough deliberation, North Carolina has set in motion a process that will lead to the creation of high-paying jobs and a better energy future for the state,” Durbin said. “Safe and responsible development of natural gas will provide ample supplies of energy for North Carolina families while boosting job growth and generating revenue for the government.”

SB 820, also known as the Clean Energy and Economic Security Act, calls for creating a nine-member oil and gas board and would establish a moratorium on fracking until mid-2014, to allow the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to craft an appropriate regulatory framework. The bill passed both chambers of the Republican-controlled General Assembly in June, mostly along party lines.

Perdue has stated that she believes fracking can be done safely (see NGI, March 19), and subsequently issued an executive order for various state agencies to organize a work group to study fracking and make regulatory recommendations. Perdue’s order followed separate reports by DENR and the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations Inc. (see NGI, March 5). Respectively, those reports said fracking could be done safely but that current state regulations were inadequate.

Last year Perdue vetoed another energy bill — SB 709, also known as the Energy Jobs Act — on her contention that it was unconstitutional for her to enter into an offshore energy compact with neighboring Virginia and South Carolina (see NGI, Oct. 17, 2011). The Senate overrode her veto on July 13, 2011, but the House has not been successful in following suit, withdrawing votes to attempt an override on May 24 and June 14 of this year.

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