The measure would lift a ban on hydraulic fracturing or fracking, but state permits wouldn't occur for at least another two years while regulations are developed.
Fracking involves injecting a drilled well with chemicals, water, and sand to crack shale rock and free trapped methane gas.
The bill would direct state agencies to devise a regulatory program to manage oil and gas exploration that ultimately would be approved by the General Assembly.
Bill Weatherspoon with the North Carolina Petroleum Council calls the bill a good "take-it-slow" approach. Several Democrats opposed to the bill said the process should go even slower because the environmental risks are so great.
The bill now goes to the full Senate.
The vote came after opponents protested in downtown Raleigh on what they called "Frack Free Day."
Environmental groups have said the process is full of problems and is dangerous.
"There's just no evidence that fracking can be done safely and North Carolina has no history of regulating this kind of industry," said Elizabeth Ouzts with Environment NC. "We're gonna talk to as many lawmakers as we can and make sure they understand that fracking is gonna have real impact on our drinking water and our air quality," Ouzts said.