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N. Carolina county weighing in on proposed fracking regs

Ray Gronberg | The Herald-Sun

DURHAM — County officials will tell the state its draft regulations for the fracking industry aren’t tough enough, especially when it comes to allowing local governments a place at the table.

“The bottom line, we feel, is the proposed rules do not adequately protect human health and the environment, nor do they adequately allow local government to participate in the siting, regulatory or emergency management aspects of fracking,” said Tobin Freid, Durham’s sustainability manager.

Freid and other administrators were seeking, and got, a County Commissioners go-ahead on Monday to submit comments on the draft rules to N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The submission deadline is Sept. 30, the comments ultimately to go to the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission, the panel that’s writing the rules that will govern natural-gas drilling in North Carolina.

Fracking refers to a specific drilling technology called “hydraulic fracturing.” In it, drillers inject water and chemicals into wells at high pressure to break up deep-under-the-surface rock and release the gas trapped there.

The technology isn’t new, but it’s made it possible for drillers to open up gas and oil deposits traditional methods wouldn’t have gotten much out of. Geologists think there’s a potential gas field under the state that may include parts of Durham County.

“These are issues that affect every county in the state,” County Commissioner Wendy Jacobs said.

Related: Advocates say NC energy group hired homeless to tout fracking

State legislators in setting the mining commission to work have sought to minimize the local-government role in regulating fracking, for fear cities, towns and counties might try to prevent drilling.

The N.C. General Assembly acted this year to prohibit the passage by local governments of rules that bar fracking entirely, though it allowed local zoning rules that might affect the industry to continue in force as long as they deal with business in general and do not discriminate against oil and gas firms.

The county’s comments — a joint production of the county staff and Durham’s Environmental Affairs Board — say local officials need a bigger say in the permit process for new wells.

In particular, they should have approval rights when it comes to a driller’s plan for responding to fires, chemical spills and other emergencies at a well site, the county says.

They also need to share in the permit-review fees the state collects from drillers, as emergency management planning and environmental watchdogging “will put a significant burden on local governments.”

On the environmental front, the county wants the rules rewritten to make it clearer the state can reject permits that for wells that might threaten water supplies, and to include bigger buffers than the state has proposed between gas wells, homes, streams and drinking-water wells.

It also fears the mining commission is carving out for itself too much power to waive well-construction standards for reasons of technical or economic feasibility.

 

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