After about three hours of heated discussion and 12 proposed amendments, Senate Bill 820 passed the state House of Representatives Thursday afternoon.
The bill, otherwise known as the Clean Energy and Economic Security Act, would instantly legalize fracking, but place a moratorium on drilling until the General Assembly votes to end that moratorium sometime in the future.
However, the 66 votes that passed the bill are not enough votes to override a veto from the governor, which takes 72. This leaves hope for the many activists and community members who have been fighting against the bill.
“The key thing is that there were not enough votes for this bill today to override the veto,” said Elizabeth Ouzts, State Director for Environment NC. “So Gov. Perdue is really our next backstop against this legislation and we’ll be calling on her to veto it.”
Will Morgan, director of government relations for the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the bill will likely go back to the Senate Monday for concurrence, where the two versions of the bill will be reconciled. If it is approved there, it will go on to the governor, where she’ll have 10 days to make her decision.
“The final version of the bill that passed today doesn’t meet the high standards that the governor set in her executive order, so we hope that she’ll take that into consideration,” Morgan said.
Ouzts called the speed with which fracking legislation has proceeded through the General Assembly “irresponsible,” and Representatives on the floor expressed this during the debate.
“We always have time to do things again, but we never have time, and we never take the time to do it right the first time,” said State Rep. Larry Hall, a Democrat from Durham. “And this is another example of how we’re going to do that.”
State Rep. Joe Hackney, minority leader and representative for Chatham, Moore and Orange Counties, was frustrated with even the speed with which the bill was debated on the floor. Because of the number of amendments, debate was limited to 10 minutes per amendment.
“I think this procedure is outrageous and I’ll just start with that,” Hackney said.
House members repeatedly used a procedure in which they move to “Previous Question,” meaning a member would to vote to end discussion once the 10-minute time limit was up. In the House, this enabled minority and majority leaders to debate the proposed amendments for an additional three minutes each.
The longest of the failed amendments was one proposed by Representative Pricey Harrison, a democrat from Guilford County. This amendment was 20 pages long, and was essentially a rewrite of SB 820 that called for further study of hydraulic fracturing without legalizing the process. It also incorporated a number of extensive consumer protections, including the banning of forced pooling, which can require landowners to allow drilling, and the institution of a 30-day grace period for those who had signed leases to back out of their contracts.
Several other amendments that would have extended the amount of time before reports would be due back to the General Assembly also failed to pass. Gillespie argued that many of these amendments were just an attempt to drag out a process that has already been put off for too long, pointing to a pamphlet on mineral exploration and drilling from 1927, termed “cracking” then.
“What is 1927? You think we’ve been in a haste to get to this?” Gillespie said
According to Gillespie, it’s necessary to move quickly, since North Carolina has already lost decades of development.
“Where has our leadership been on energy production in North Carolina?” Gillespie said. “Under Speaker Tillis and President Pro Temp Berger, in a short year and a half were getting ready to put North Carolina on the map in energy production in the next few years to come.”
As it stands in the bill that was passed today, the first report back to the state legislature would be in January 2013, which, as Ouzts points out, is only slightly more than six months away.
“First of all the commission has to get appointed, and there has to be all these issues studied,” Ouzts said. “And for a state that has no history of having this type of industry, it’s ambitious to think they can have it all done by January.”
One of the issues expected to be thoroughly researched and reported by or before then is forced pooling, in which landowners are forced to allow hydraulic fracturing on their property if enough of their neighbors sign leases.
State Rep. Bill Faison, a Democrat from Caswell and Orange counties, proposed three different amendments, two of which dealt with consumer protection and trespassing rights, and one of which specifically addressed issues with forced pooling.
Gillespie cited a press release from the Attorney General that called SB 820 the strongest bill in the nation, pointing to the required disclosure of chemical components in fracturing fluid as one example of the bill’s strengths.
Harrison emphasized that the bill does not require the disclosure of all chemicals, however, protecting those considered to be trade secrets — which leaves “an enormous potential for abuse.”
According to Gillespie, no other state requires that level of disclosure.
“What you have here is a very strict interpretation on disclosure, minus the trade secrets, which nobody in the nation requires,” Gillespie said
For State Rep. Diane Parfitt, a Democrat from Cumberland County, that answer wasn’t adequate.
“Even though it’s not going on in the rest of the United States, does that make it right? And don’t we want to be better than that?” Parfitt said. “And if we’re going to do it aren’t we going to do it the right way? This is very problematic.”