Perdue vetoes bid to start gas fracking in NC

RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed legislation Sunday that would allow a form of shale gas exploration called fracking in North Carolina, saying the measure did too little to protect drinking water, landowners and local governments.

The measure now returns to the General Assembly. The outcome of an override vote as early as Monday is uncertain because there may not be enough votes in the House to meet the required three-fifths majority.

Perdue has expressed tempered support for hydraulic fracturing if the right regulations are in place and it can be done safely to protect drinking water and citizens. She agreed with supporters of fracking that it could help create jobs and lower energy costs.

But the Democratic governor said the Republican-led General Assembly’s legislation fell short.

“Our drinking water and the health and safety of North Carolina’s families are too important; we can’t put them in jeopardy by rushing to allow fracking without proper safeguards,” Perdue said in a statement announcing her veto. “I urged the sponsors of the bill to adopt a few changes to ensure that strong protections would be in place before any fracking would occur. The General Assembly was unwilling to adopt the changes I suggested.”

Perdue issued an executive order in May to direct a workgroup to recommend how to regulate fracking. Fracking opponents have inundated Perdue’s office with thousands of emails and phone calls urging her to veto the bill. They favor more study, arguing that it would ultimately show the energy method is flawed and dangerous and should never be legalized.

“We applaud Gov. Perdue for listening to the people of this state and vetoing this misguided piece of legislation,” said Molly Diggins, state director of the Sierra Club.

But delay means North Carolina is missing out on jobs and profits flowing to other states, said Dallas Woodhouse, state director of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

“States like North Dakota and Pennsylvania are seeing natural gas energy booms, but today Gov. Perdue decided that North Carolina citizens should continue to suffer crippling unemployment,” he said.

A statement by the Legislature’s top GOP leaders said lawmakers already incorporated many of Perdue’s recommendations.

“We are disappointed, but not surprised, that when decision time neared, she once again caved to her liberal base rather than support the promise of more jobs for our state,” said Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg.

The bill would legalize horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing — fracking for short — a process that involves injecting a drilled well with chemically treated water mixed with sand to crack shale rock and free trapped natural gas. The wastewater is often disposed of in separate wells.

The greatest potential for fracking in North Carolina appears to be with shale deposits in the Piedmont and Sandhills. Estimates vary on the amount of natural gas that could be reached. Environmentalists have argued recent estimates showing a relatively short supply prove it’s not worth the risk. Drilling supporters say the real reserves won’t be known until exploration starts.

The law would legalize fracking, but drilling permits wouldn’t be issued for at least two years while rules and regulations for the practice are developed. A state mining commission would be reconstituted into a 15-member panel that would develop industry regulations and permit rules. The Legislature would have to vote on allowing permits to give time for environmental standards to be adopted by several agencies. Those rules are supposed to be adopted by October 2014.

Perdue had until midnight Sunday to sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without her signature. Legislative leaders said they gave the final package to Perdue for review before the final vote in the Senate.

The bill included many consumer protections for landowners who lease their land for shale gas exploration and production or whose land or water is contaminated. But opponents said more were needed. Critics also said legislators ignored findings in a Department of Environment and Natural Resources report that called for more studies before deciding whether to allow shale gas development.

Fracking has been a hot topic in gas-rich states such as Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia.

With the fracking bill, Perdue has vetoed 20 bills since taking office in 2009. All but one of the vetoes has come since Republicans took control of both chambers of the Legislature in early 2011 for the first time in 140 years.