Sen. E.S. "Buck" Newton, a Republican from Johnston, Nash and Wilson counties who co-sponsored the bill, said the drilling has the potential to create thousands of jobs and billions in revenues (for more on those expectations, see here).
"Do we want to sit around and twiddle our thumbs for another 15 to 20 years and do nothing when other states have been doing it for decades safely?" Newton said.
The practice is seen as an economic driver by proponents, but critics point to numerous reports of environmental contamination associated with drilling across the country.
The original Senate legislation authorized the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to issue fracking permits starting March 1, 2015, although the House version approved Thursday morning requires another vote from the N.C. General Assembly for the permits to become valid.
The House version also strips language allowing for the injection of fracking waste underground and would retain a state registry of landmen. As reported recently in INDY Week, the Senate bill's sponsors received significant campaign contributions from energy interests.
Committee Democrats questioned whether the state would be allowing permits to be issued before fracking regulations are finalized. Newton, however, called the March 2015 deadline "more than adequate time" to finish the rule-making process, which is ongoing in the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission. The commission has an October 2014 deadline for completing its work.
During Thursday's meeting, DENR Secretary John Skvarla indicated his support for the controversial legislation.
"The bill is a giant step forward to all of us who demand environmental protection and certainty to the people willing to spend tens of millions of dollars in the hydraulic fracturing process," Skvarla said.
Not so, according to environmental opponents.
"It is much better than the Senate version," Environment N.C. Director Elizabeth Ouzts told INDY Week Wednesday. "But it is still bad for water quality, and it breaks the promise that the legislature made last year that they would allow the Mining and Energy Commission to develop rules before setting a date for permits to be issued."