by Billy Ball
As expected, the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission completed its proposed regulations for the natural gas drilling industry on Friday. Also expected, many environmental activists are not happy with the results, which state lawmakers are expected to finalize next year. Read the recommended rules here.
"With all of the challenges of NC’s shallow shale formations, high population density, no regulatory experience and a tiny gas supply, why would we do this?" said Hope Taylor, executive director of Clean Water for N.C. "It’s a waste of public effort and resources to benefit a handful of folks.”
After receiving more than 200,000 public comments this year on their proposed fracking regulations, commission members approved fewer than a dozen major changes. Among the approved changes, regulators will be able to schedule unannounced inspections at drill sites and order stoppages for drillers who violate the law repeatedly.
The commission also increased the size of required buffers between municipal water supplies and drill sites, but stopped short of banning outdoor pits for fracking fluids, despite reports of leaking pits in other states. Duke Energy's coal ash spill this February raised awareness of the controversial pits as commission members readied rules this year.
Meanwhile, last week, environmental activists scoffed at the commission's agreement to allow unannounced inspections at drill sites. “This change in language to allow—but not require—unannounced inspections is not the big deal the agency and media are making it to be," said Elaine Chiosso, a riverkeeper for the environmental nonprofit Haw River Assembly. "It falls far short of the protections that the public expects."