RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A bill to allow permits for fracking in North Carolina was all but a done deal Thursday as it heads to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature.
It was a fast turnaround for the bill after being passed with no debate by the Senate hours after the House approved it with minor changes. McCrory, an ardent proponent of expanding natural gas exploration in North Carolina, will very likely sign the bill.
Natural gas exploration includes fracking, which refers to hydraulic fracturing, a method of extracting oil and gas by injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals into rock. Permits for the practice could be issued by May 2015.
The governor told reporters Thursday in Raleigh he "absolutely" supports the House version of the bill, saying he's pushed for energy exploration since his first run for governor in 2008.
"We have sat on the sidelines as a state for far too long on gas exploration and having (North Carolina) create jobs and also help with our country's energy independence," McCrory said.
House Democrats tried a few last-gasp efforts to restrict the practice of fracking and put more safeguards in place Thursday, introducing about a dozen amendments to the bill. But House Republicans swatted down every one with either a vote, or a parliamentary maneuver to prevent a vote and halt debate.
Before the House took up the bill, about 50 environmental activists staged a rally with several lawmakers, criticizing the bill as hazardous to the public health and warning that chemicals used in fracking could contaminate drinking water.
North Carolina is believed to have natural gas reserves locked in layers of shale under Chatham, Lee and Moore counties, though just how much is in dispute.
"I'm on well water and I'm really scared about the chemicals they're going to put in there," said Deb Arnason, a protester from Anson County.