RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A bill that would make it a crime to publicly disclose the secret chemical mixtures that energy companies pump into the ground when fracking for natural gas is headed for a vote before the North Carolina Senate.
A pair of legislative committees on Tuesday quickly approved the bill, which could go to the full Senate floor as soon as Wednesday. The legislation aims to allow drilling to begin in the state next year, even if final rules and procedures are not yet in place.
Democrats and environmental groups accused Republican leaders of trying to fast track the legislation before opposition can build. The bill's GOP backers said the issue has already been debated for years and that a state commission appointed in 2012 has already produced about 120 draft rules.
"It's time to fish or cut bait," said Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, one of the legislation's primary sponsors. "Are we going to talk it to death, or get into the business?"
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is used by the energy industry to extract oil and gas from rock by injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals. North Carolina is believed to have natural gas reserves locked in layers of shale under Chatham, Lee and Moore counties.
Environmental groups worry that potentially hazardous chemicals could contaminate groundwater and wells serving nearby homes and farms. Industry representatives have long argued that disclosing the chemicals would reveal trade secrets.
The proposed legislation would require energy companies to submit a list of the chemicals in use to the state geologist, who would keep it locked away in case of an accident or emergency. The legislation exempts those lists from disclosure as public records.
Unauthorized disclosure of the chemicals would be a felony, punishable by either community service or up to a year in prison, depending on whether the offender has a prior criminal record.