by Lisa Sorg
House Bill 242, which calls for a study of the environmental and financial impacts of fracking, passed the House Finance Committee today. However, there was substantial discussion about the lack of legal protections for landowners who sign leasing agreements with drilling companies.
As the Indy reported this week, although fracking is still illegal in North Carolina, many landowners, particularly in Lee County, have already signed leasing contracts with drilling companies, the major one being the Denver-based WhitMar Exploration.
Becky Ceartas, program director of Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, told the committee that the contracts she’s seen contain predatory clauses including those that allow the landowner to be liable for environmental damage and permit the drilling company to explore for natural gas anywhere on the land without notice. “These abuses should be corrected through legislation,” she said.
State Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat, asked that protective language be included in the bill before sending it to the full House for a vote. “I’m very troubled by moving this bill along when it’s not ready,” he said. “I’m concerned we might be moving too fast on this. I want assurance that we can work on this before it leaves the House.”
Bill co-sponsor state Rep. Mitch Gillespie, a Republican representing Burke and McDowell counties, assured the committee that language, essentially crafted by RAFI, would be included in the final version of the bill that would go to the full House. However, he urged the committee to pass the bill today without that language so as to avoid getting “stuck with something we don’t like.”
Gillespie was referring to Senate Bill 709, known as the Energy Jobs Act, which would quickly overhaul the state’s energy policy to encourage offshore drilling and onshore fracking, as well as to load the Energy Policy Council with members from the oil and gas industries.
That bill passed the Senate 38-12 earlier this month. The House Public Utilities Committee is scheduled to hear it next.