North Carolina House gives initial approval to gas fracking

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The North Carolina House is expected to give final approval Thursday to a fracking bill. (WTVD)

The North Carolina House is expected to give final approval Thursday to a fracking bill called the "Energy Modernization Act."

That means lawmakers are a step closer to lifting the current moratorium which bans natural gas drilling in North Carolina.

"We want to send a clear message that North Carolina is open for natural gas exploration, and we need jobs in North Carolina," said Rep. Mike Stone, (R) Lee County.

Some say it is pitting jobs and low-cost energy versus safety and the environment. Those priorities clashed before the House passed the fracking bill on a 63 to 52 vote.

"We made sure that before the moratorium is lifted that the rules have to be in place, and there's also a 60-day grace period put in there as well so we can get up to getting permits," said Stone.

Fracking involves drilling and pumping chemicals and water underground to release natural gas. It's something never done before in North Carolina.

Senate Bill 786 replaced a moratorium on drilling with a provision that lets the state's Environment and Natural Resources Department issue drilling permits two months after rules to regulate the practice are passed.

"The legislature is breaking their promise," said Elizabeth Ouzts, with Environment North Carolina. "They don't have the regulations complete. The regulations are missing -- lots of key things."

Ouzts says the state currently doesn't have any air or water quality standards for discharging the radioactive contaminants fracking will produce.

"Some of those are cancer causing, and then the waste water created is even radioactive," said Ouzts. "This bill keeps some of those chemicals secret, and certainly their quantities of them secret."

Other groups like Americans for Prosperity have come out in favor of fracking.

"The North Carolina General Assembly is moving North Carolina into the 21st Century of energy development by finally passing legislation to open our state to natural gas extraction," said John Dudley, the North Carolina Director of Americans for Prosperity.

Some estimate an economic impact to the tune of $80 million -- sustaining about 500 jobs a year.

That's what Stone is banking on for his constituents in Lee County, where much of the state's natural gas is believed to be.

Others, however, say the stakes for nearby communities are too high.

"Not only is that going to threaten our drinking water, potentially contaminate it, but yes could make people sick, and we couldn't find out about how they got sick until after the fact," said Ouzts.

The bill has to pass a final House vote Thursday before it moves back to the Senate. If they don't make any changes, it goes to the Gov. Pat McCrory's desk.

Fracking critics and environmentalists are planning to hold a rally and news conference at the legislature. They are urging lawmakers to keep their word from two years ago, and to slow down.

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