RALEIGH (AP) — The North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission has several more days to suggest changes to proposed fracking rules before what panel leaders hope is a swift final discussion and vote.
Commission vice chairwoman Amy Pickle said Monday that she is “cautiously optimistic” that the panel will wrap up its final discussion and vote at the Friday meeting without it spilling over into a backup date next week. The state Legislature will have the final say on the rules during its session that begins in January.
At meetings last week, the commission discussed rule changes recommended in a report by three members who oversaw the gathering of public comments on fracking. The rule changes included ones that would allow the state to inspect hydraulic fracturing operations without warning, halt work if necessary, ensure fracking records are permanently archived and add a new setback distance to protect municipal water supplies.
Commissioner James Womack agreed that the final discussion should move briskly Friday. He said the panel generally agreed on revisions during last week’s meetings, so the remaining work largely amount to “word-smithing.”
“We had such a very deliberate process going in, right from the start, that this was not our first bite at the apple,” he said Monday.
The state received nearly 220,000 public comments on the more than 100 draft rules.
Gov. Pat McCrory signed a law over the summer clearing the way for permits to be issued as soon as next spring for hydraulic fracturing, which involves injecting water, sand and chemicals to break apart underground rocks so oil and gas can escape.
Fracking proponents say it can be done safely and that affordable natural gas helps manufacturers create more jobs.
“The rules that have been developed by the MEC appropriately weigh the significant public input received during the process and make it possible for oil and natural gas development to be done safely and responsibly here in North Carolina,” David McGowan, executive director of the North Carolina Petroleum Council, said Monday in an email.
Grady McCallie, policy director for the North Carolina Conservation Network, attended some of the discussions on the revisions and said he was disappointed by the overall set of rules. He said the commission was somewhat limited by the way the state laws were written, but it still could have crafted stricter rules in certain areas. For example, he said the commission could choose to ban open pits for fracking waste.
“What’s in there will not protect North Carolinians,” he said of the rules.