This Wednesday in Raleigh will see the first of four upcoming public hearings in North Carolina over the state’s proposed fracking rules. The hearings are part of the final phase of rule making, coming after two years of research, discussion, and compromise. Though the hearings are meant to focus on technical details of the proposed rules, they will more likely serve as an opportunity for fracking supporters and opponents to try to sway state officials and make a broader political point in a large public forum. The other three hearings will take place in Sanford, Reidsville, and Cullowhee.
Speakers at the hearings will have three minutes to make their case on the rules the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission (the “Commission”) has proposed. There are more than 100 proposed rules, but the issues most speakers are expected to address are “chemical disclosure, drilling distances from homes and water wells, baseline testing of drinking water, and the risks of storing chemical-laced fluids in open-air pits.” Samples of the Commission’s proposed rules can be found here. Speakers at the hearings are also expected to comment on areas not covered by the proposed rules, such as forced pooling, air quality monitoring, regulatory fees, road use, storm water control, waste disposal, and taxes. According to the Commission, these and other “perceived holes” are either still under review or outside the Commission’s jurisdiction.
Fracking opponents are also likely to advocate for increasing safety buffers and setbacks, adding landowner protections and changing some of the proposed rules. For example, this year the Commission decided to allow energy companies, upon approval by the Commission, to not disclose fracking chemicals under a “trade secret” provision. A proposed rule change would eliminate these trade secret exemptions.
The Commissioners presiding over the hearings will accept public comments, but will not answer questions. The Commission recognizes that most of the comments will be general declarations about energy policy, but notes that the most helpful remarks will address specific rules. Public comments could modify the fracking rules, which will go before the state legislature in January.