Section 7 of the draft report is a crucial component, especially in light of the legislation that is currently working its way through North Carolina’s General Assembly. This section addresses the proposed regulatory framework necessary to protect North Carolina’s environment and citizens if fracking becomes legal.
While there are a number of federal statutes regarding environmental regulation and contamination, many of these have specific exemptions for the oil and gas industry. One of these is the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, also known as the Superfund Act, which sets the ground rules for cleaning up environmental contamination.
Since oil and gas products are excluded from this act, individual states are left to establish liability and financial responsibility for any contamination the industry causes. In states like ours, where there is very little history of this industry, these regulations are inadequate, and sometimes they don’t even exist yet.
For instance, North Carolina can’t apply current state hazardous waste rules to the storage, transportation and disposal of natural gas-related waste.
Our current rules only apply to wastes regulated under the federal legislation of Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and this act intentionally excludes the oil and natural gas industry so that states can further develop their own regulations.
So to be able to fully asses North Carolina’s existing regulatory framework, DENR commissioned an external review by State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations Inc., known as STRONGER.
The full report is included in the index of the draft study, but one of the key recommendations STRONGER made was to develop formal standards and technical criteria for natural gas development specifically, rather than just attempting to blanket the industry with general environmental regulations.
The report then goes on to discuss a number of standards of measure for those criteria, ranging from what other states are doing to the guidelines suggested by public and private agencies. It mentions once again the EPA study of hydraulic fracturing effects on drinking water, set to be completed in 2014 — the year that fracking would become legal in NC if the legislation in the works in the General Assembly goes through.
The last half of section 7 delves into the recommendations for a stronger regulatory framework, highlighting some current NC legislation that needs to be updated, such as the State’s Oil and Gas Conservation Act; most of its provisions date back to 1945.
It concludes by calling for a more detailed discussion of standards appropriate for North Carolina, specifically, and the inclusion of input from local governments, experts and the general public.