As of March 17, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is now permissible in North Carolina, despite cries from opponents that the newly passed legislation won’t keep the state’s environment safe. The Tar Heel State is no stranger to environmental issues, with the government still fighting with Duke Energy over a coal ash spill last February.

The door may be open to fracking, but its opponents are not ready to accept defeat. In other states, local governments have some ability to regulate how and where fracking takes place in their municipalities. That’s not the case in North Carolina, however, whose rules also do not specify who is responsible for damages that can result from the drilling process.

“We want local governments to have the opportunity to regulate fracking,” said Representative Robert Reives (D-Chatham, Lee). “Right now, we’ve got issues galore with the rules with the fact that they do not address who’s going to pay for all the damage, whenever trucks are coming back and forth on your roads in your counties. How do you get that damage paid for?”

Process of mixing water with fracking fluids to be injected into the ground

Mixing water with fracking fluids to be injected into the ground, photo courtesy of Joshua Doubek, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Another issue not covered in the current legislation is what will happen to the wastewater left over from the fracking. The wastewater has been a point of contention as states attempt to determine the best way to treat and dispose of it. It’s an issue of particular concern here, because the produced water may contain harmful substances, and a 2012 North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) report noted that shale gas formations are closer to groundwater sources in North Carolina than in other gas-producing areas of the country.

Those who were hoping to see the doors rushed by oil drillers once the moratorium was lifted may be a bit disappointed. So far, the reaction from the drilling industry has been positive, but companies are not jumping at the chance to drill in the state. Part of the blame goes to the recent price drop in oil and gas, causing a slowdown in fracking exploration as the process becomes cost-prohibitive in higher-risk areas. Given the tightening financial constraints, there is less incentive to invest in a state like North Carolina with no history of oil and gas drilling, uncertain natural gas resources, and no infrastructure of pipelines to move the fuel to market.

So far, smaller, less-experienced companies are the only ones visiting the state and interested in drilling. The prime location is a 90-square-mile former mining area across Chatham, Lee, and Moore counties. If a company does decide to drill a well, it could be months before final approval is received. The application is reviewed by the Energy and Mining Commission before a final application is submitted to DENR.

North Carolina is now the 34th state to allow fracking. If all goes smoothly, the first well could be approved as early as this summer. Do you think North Carolina will see companies flock to it for drilling? Share your answers in the comments.