Expect the debate of local vs. state control over fracking to only swell.
Tuesday night, commissioners in Anson County approved a 5-year fracking ban as they gather more information on the drilling and its prospective pros and cons.
Leaders in the rural county east of Charlotte were pushed to approve the moratorium by at least one local environmentalist, according to Hope Taylor, an anti-fracking activist with Clean Water for North Carolina. Anson joins the Granville County town of Creedmoor in passing an anti-fracking ordinance, although it's unclear whether state lawmakers will eventually trump local control in fracking legislation.
Fracking is a drilling technique used to extract natural gas from underground shale deposits. Proponents say the drilling will bring jobs and commerce to North Carolina. Opponents say the practice poses environmental hazards, including groundwater contamination. Anson sits at the southern end of a North Carolina corridor targeted for future drilling, which could be cleared for permitting in the next two to three years.
INDY Week has written extensively about fracking in the past, as well as the work of the state's Mining and Energy Commission, a panel charged with readying the state's fracking regulations. We've also spent some time looking into the online activities of commission Chairman Jim Womack, which you can read about here and here.
Much-discussed plans for a two-story CVS in downtown Carrboro will be back before town leaders Tuesday night.
The pharmacy bigbox's latest plans for a 24,590 square-foot store at the intersection of Greensboro and Weaver streets are likely to draw the usual share of ire from some Carrboro protesters, who argue the store will clog the town's center with traffic congestion, destroy historic homes and otherwise disrupt town life.
CVS officials say their current location near Carr Mill Mall is too small to support demand in the Orange County town.
Pharmacy plans have been through various phases, although the slight modifications in the newest CVS plan, which include a small partially enclosed park and a reduction in parking spaces from 65 to 61, don't seem likely to satiate the store's chief critics.
Tuesday's meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. at Carrboro Town Hall. View the meeting agenda here.
If you enjoy reading instruction manuals, chances are Friday's webinar report on a long-awaited fracking study from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was a hoot.
EPA scientist Jeanne Briskin, who is helping to lead the study, explained the multi-pronged approach the agency is taking to tackle fracking, which could begin permitting in North Carolina as soon as 2014. Perhaps not coincidentally, that's when the EPA expects to issue its draft report on the environmental impacts of the controversial drilling method.
The EPA study is expected to focus on fracking's effect on groundwater, water supply and wastewater treatment. All are key issues considering the widespread reports blaming fracking for water pollution in U.S. states that already allow the drilling.
Briskin said EPA research projects include analysis of fracking chemicals (dutifully listed on FracFocus' online registry of chemicals), spills, water-use scenarios and wastewater treatment. Work is also underway to develop methods for identifying the source of water contamination, vital if environmentalists are to concretely link the drilling to pollution reports.
EPA case studies of drinking water impacts are ongoing in fracking states, such as Colorado, North Dakota, Texas and Pennsylvania, Briskin said.
Additionally, EPA officials are planning five "technical roundtables" on fracking in 2013, starting with a Feb. 25 session on analytical chemical methods in the Triangle, according to Briskin. In April, expect roundtables on well operations and wastewater treatment, followed by meets on water acquisition and case studies in June.
After the release of its 2014 draft report, there will be a period for a science peer review, after which the agency will issue its final report, Briskin said.
In the meantime, the Indy will keep tabs on the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission, the group charged with readying fracking regulations. The group next meets Jan. 24-25.
Those looking for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) final word on fracking impacts will have to wait—at least until 2014.
But the EPA is hosting webinars today and tomorrow to provide a progress report on the ongoing study. By this morning, all slots were filled for today's 2 p.m. webinar, although spots remained for Friday's noon session. Register here.
According to the EPA, the webinar is going to offer updates on the study's approach and status, as well as five technical roundables held in Nov. 2012.
EPA officials say the purpose of the Congress-requested study will be to "assess the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources, if any, and to identify the driving factors that may affect the severity and frequency of such impacts."
Research will key on drinking water impacts, the impacts of fracking chemicals and fracking wastewater.
The controversial drilling practice, which could begin permitting in North Carolina as soon as 2014, has been dogged by reports of groundwater contamination and other environmental impacts, such as increased seismic activity in fracking regions. Proponents, however, say the drilling will be a boon to the state's lagging economy.
Follow the ongoing work of the state's Mining and Energy Commission here. The commission and its various committees will next meet Jan. 24-25 in Raleigh.
Thus far, the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission's meetings have been primarily organizational in nature, with members debating such things as pre-meeting prayers and committee assignments.
But commission Chair Jim Womack told members of the N.C. General Assembly's Environmental Review Commission Thursday morning that the group expects its first "substantive" discussion of fracking regulations next week.
"It'll be the first time that we actually start tackling the issues," Womack said.
The mining commission includes drilling industry reps, geologists, a handful of conservationists and local government leaders like Womack—a county commissioner in the likely drilling hub of Lee County. The commission was created when lawmakers voted in July to begin the controversial drilling practice as soon as 2014. In the meantime, Womack's commission is charged with building a regulatory framework.
Proponents say fracking will bolster the state's lagging economy with jobs and cash while providing a cache of locally-grown energy. Critics, however, note many reports of environmental pollution and increased seismic activity blamed on the drilling in other states.
The commission has split into six committees focusing on topics such as mining, civil penalties, environmental standards and water and waste management. The panel has also enlisted three study groups to discuss funding sources, local government regulatory powers and compulsory pooling.
The latter subject is an especially touchy one for many fracking opponents, who point out holdout landowners can be forced to ink gas leasing agreements if the bulk of their neighbors have already done so.
Womack said Thursday that the 15-member commission of appointees would likely meet at least once every six weeks. He acknowledged the transition from outgoing Gov. Bev Perdue to Gov.-elect Pat McCrory could spur turnover for some members of the commission.
"We haven't wedded ourselves to those personalities," Womack said.
Womack also made his pitch to lawmakers for more than $500,000 in funding for the commission to cover operating expenses, travel and staff pay.
Next week's meeting of the Mining and Energy Commission is set for 9 a.m. Wednesday in Raleigh's Archdale Building on North Salisbury Street.
Generally speaking, vice presidential candidates are thought of as the presidential ticket's attack dog.
GOP Congressman Paul Ryan, controversial architect of deficit-reducing federal budget plans, was just that when he made a campaign stop in Raleigh Wednesday, taking shots at President Obama on the economy, healthcare and Medicare. His stop comes days after presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney tapped the Ayn Rand devotee as his running mate.
"The president inherited a difficult situation when he came into office," Ryan told a crowd of several thousand fired-up conservatives—mostly white, mostly graying—at the Raleigh facility of sheet-metal fabrication company SMT. "Here's the problem, he's made things much worse."
Ryan used the afternoon stop in the Tar Heel state, one of many key swing states in the upcoming presidential election, to highlight the differences between the Romney and Obama camps, touting Romney as a business-savvy, bipartisan leader and the president as a bitterly partisan, irresponsible spender.
Most North Carolina polls, aside from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling, show the GOP nominee holding an ever-so-slim lead on Obama prior to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte next month.
Catch the full story of Wednesday's Ryan rally in next week's Indy.
On Sunday, the lame-duck Gov. Bev Perdue handed down her third veto of GOP-backed legislation in four days when she axed Senate Bill 820, a controversial measure paving the way for hydraulic fracturing, better known as "fracking," in North Carolina as soon as 2014.
It comes days after the governor used the veto power on a GOP-backed budget plan and an overhaul of the Racial Justice Act.
It remains to be seen whether Republican legislators have the support to override Perdue's fracking veto in the N.C. House. A veto override requires a three-fifths vote from both chambers, and neither chamber met that mark when the legislation was passed two weeks ago.
Still, thanks to absent lawmakers, Senate Republicans were successful in a 29-13 override vote Monday and House leaders could take a vote on the override this afternoon.
Perdue's fracking veto came at the last minute this weekend as Sunday was the last day she could exercise her veto power on the bill. Fracking opponents likely felt some angst awaiting word on Perdue's decision during the 10-day veto period as the governor announced in March that she backs fracking if the proper safeguards are in place.
The legislation opens the door to the natural gas drilling in two years after lawmakers build a regulatory structure, also granting wide powers to a newly-created mining commission to regulate the industry.
Supporters tout fracking as an economic energizer with the potential to create hundreds of jobs and bring revenues to lucky landowners in central parts of North Carolina like Sanford. Critics, however, note the many questions about the drilling's long-term environmental impacts, including examples of water pollution and increased seismic activity reported in other states.
Some also noted a majority of the mining commission's ranks would be filled by individuals with experience or interest in the industry.
Senate Bill 820—the brainchild of Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, and Rep. Mitch Gillespie, R-McDowell—survived opposition from N.C. General Assembly Democrats and environmentalists who said the legislation did not do enough to protect the state's environment.
In a statement Sunday, Perdue echoed those sentiments.
"Our drinking water and the health and safety of North Carolina's families are too important," Perdue said in the statement. "We can't put them in jeopardy by rushing to allow fracking without proper safeguards."
The governor called on lawmakers to adopt a "strong set of standards" as she urged in an executive order in May.
Not surprisingly, Republican legislative leaders are taking shots at the governor for her veto, calling it a "flip-flop" in a joint statement Sunday by House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham.
"The General Assembly incorporated many of the governor's recommendations in a bipartisan plan to begin developing regulatory framework for affordable, clean energy alternatives," the lawmakers said. "We are disappointed, but not surprised, that when decision time neared, she once again caved to her liberal base rather than support the promise of more jobs for our state."
Meanwhile, environmental advocates applauded the veto.
"Gov. Perdue stood up for our drinking water today," said Elizabeth Ouzts, state director for Environment North Carolina, in a statement Sunday. "She stood up for our air quality and our rural landscapes, and against this dangerous approach to fracking."
Hope Taylor, executive director of Clean Water for NC, said in a statement that the governor heeded the voices of a number of fracking opponents who called for the governor's veto in recent weeks.
"While there are varying perceptions about the safety of fracking and the economic potential of shale gas in North Carolina, it's only those who already have a vested interest in shale gas, or who want to bring dirty oil and gas money into N.C. elections who were pushing hard for this bill—that's why bill supporters couldn't muster many contacts to the governor," Taylor said.
Democrats' gubernatorial candidate, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, took the opportunity to separate himself from the unpopular Perdue, releasing a statement Monday criticizing the veto.
"This legislation sets up a regulatory structure that, while not perfect, is a proactive step and no fracking can occur until further action by the legislature," Dalton said. "The House did take steps to include more safeguards, especially for the drinking water supply, which is one of my principle concerns."
To frack or not to frack, this is the question for N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue. The lame-duck governor could ultimately be the one who decides the state's fracking future.
Not surprisingly, the N.C. House of Representatives gave its approval of fracking Thursday, although drilling opponents are likely to see opportunity in the 66-43 vote, which largely fell on party lines. Republicans will need at least six more votes to override a gubernatorial veto should Perdue use that power in the next 10 days.
Supporters say the natural gas drilling would be a boon for a lagging economy, bringing hundreds of jobs and cash. Opponents point to numerous reports of fracking spills and environmental headaches in other states.
The unpopular governor, who announced in January that she would not be seeking a second term in 2012, has been difficult to pin down on this issue.
Perdue prompted some environmental angst in March when she said fracking can be done safely after an industry-guided tour of a drilling operation in Pennsylvania.
It remains to be seen, however, if she would side with state Republicans on Senate Bill 820, the measure that opens the door to legalizing the drilling in a few years after state officials build a regulatory structure.
The governor's office had little to say on the subject Friday. "She will review the bill when it gets to her desk," said Mark Johnson, deputy communications director for the governor's office. "That's our only statement at this time."
Many state Democrats have blasted GOP-steered fracking legislation as ushering in drilling too quickly, and leaving broad powers to a regulatory mining commission where the majority have a direct stake in the industry or have drilling experience.
Critics are also quick to note that, based on low natural gas prices and the state's very modest supply of the resource, drilling isn't likely to happen in North Carolina in the next decade regardless of whether lawmakers legalize the controversial technique.
"Unfortunately, the legislature seems committed to moving forward with fracking without getting essential questions answered about the potential impact on our water resources," said Molly Diggins, state director of the N.C. Sierra Club, in a statement Friday. "There's too much at stake to make a risky bet like this. The public deserves better."
The House version of the fracking bill that passed Thursday includes some divergence from the Senate bill, including the addition of two local government officials to the mining commission and additional consumer protections. It seems likely that Senate and House conservatives will manage to reconcile the differences in a matter of days.
Meanwhile, environmentalists are asking fracking opponents to contact the governor and urge her to veto the legislation.
Activists with Occupy Raleigh are planning a protest at the governor's mansion at 6 p.m. Monday to call for a veto.
As N.C. House of Representatives leaders prepare to debate the controversial Senate Bill 820, a GOP-backed measure that could open the state's borders to fracking in two years, environmental advocates are making the case for offshore wind as a cleaner alternative.
Leaders with Environment North Carolina say they will release their report (titled "Wind Mills, Not Spills—The environmental and economic benefits of offshore wind versus offshore drilling in North Carolina") Wednesday morning in the legislative building's press room in Raleigh.
The meeting will come hours after an 8:30 a.m. House environment committee session at the N.C. General Assembly, where Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, will present his frack-backing legislation. The measure has already earned the approval of the full Senate and is expected to garner similar support in the Republican-controlled House.
Leaders have touted the natural gas drilling as a safe means of accessing underground gas stores in central North Carolina. The gas cache will power an economic rebirth for the recession-minded state, supporters say, even after a report from the U.S. Geological Survey last week projected the state's core shale deposits would meet the state's energy needs for less than six years.
Critics like Environment North Carolina have also pointed to multiple reports of environmental damage caused by fracking spills and operations in other states. Meanwhile, group Director Elizabeth Ouzts argued last week that solar energy creates nine times as many jobs while producing the same amount of energy as coal and gas.
The organization will release the report at 11 a.m. Wednesday, with comments expected from leaders like N.C. Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, and Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, as well as officials from the National Wildlife Federation and the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Occupy Chapel Hill/Carrboro will enter its second phase next week when the group removes its tents from Peace and Justice Plaza on Franklin Street, according to press release issued this morning.
Occupiers have been holding camp in front of the Post Office there since Oct. 15, but amid the coming cold, and safety and morale concerns drawn from sleeping on the street in close quarters each night, the group is shifting strategy.