Members of the North Carolina General Assembly sent Gov. Pat McCrory a bill on Thursday night that would allow the state to issue permits for hydraulic fracturing as early as May 2015, effectively lifting the state’s de-facto moratorium on the controversial shale gas drilling method.
McCrory is a long-time supporter of hydraulic fracturing and is likely to sign the bill into law.
After a two-hour debate, state representatives approved the Energy and Modernization Act in a 64 to 54 vote that was largely along party lines. Democrats voiced years-old concerns about environmental and health risks associated with the practice also known as fracking, while Republicans said the state needs to make it clear it will issue permits to encourage drilling companies to consider the state for investment.
"Now more than ever, we need to move forward to say, 'North Carolina is in the energy business,'" said Rep. Mike Stone from Lee County, which is in the state’s region most likely to see drilling wells.
Democrats, including Rep. Becky Carney from Mecklenburg County, said the bill reversed a 2012 law that called for a lawmaker-appointed Mining and Energy Commission to draft a set of rules governing the drilling industry before lawmakers could vote to allow the state to issue permits.
The bill calls for the state to issue permits 61 days after the rules are issued. The commission is scheduled to present the rules before General Assembly committee in January.