Senate Republicans have filed a bill that would allow permitting for natural gas exploration to begin in March 2015.
Titled “Domestic Energy Jobs Act,” the state bill would authorize the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to begin issuing permits on March 1, 2015, for oil and gas exploration and development activities, including horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
The General Assembly narrowly voted last year to override Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of a bill to legalize fracking. The bill required the new Mining and Energy Commission to develop a modern regulatory program for the management of gas exploration in the state and prohibited the issuance of permits until those regulations were set in place and further legislative action was taken. But the new bill would open up permitting in early 2015, five months after the fracking regulation proposals are due.
The bill also calls for the Mining and Energy Commission to study development of a “coordinated permitting program” for oil and gas exploration and activities using horizontal drilling and fracking, so that a single comprehensive environmental permit could be issued to regulate elements such as well construction, fluids injected into the ground, management of waste, regulation of air emissions, etc. Those findings would be due Oct. 1, 2013.
A variety of other actions are proposed in the bill which would remove some restrictions placed in the previous fracking bill and would also pave the way for promoting offshore drilling.
It would include modifying appointments to the Mining and Energy Commission by removing the state geologist and assistant secretary of energy for the Department of Commerce from the commission. Some other elements include eliminating the registration requirements for “persons conducting landmen activities in the state” and providing a gradually-increasing state severance tax for removing energy minerals from the soil or water, thereby encouraging companies to get on board early.
It would appropriate money from the Mineral Interest Fund to DENR to operate the Mining and Energy Commission; encourage the governor to develop a Regional Interstate Offshore Energy Policy Compact with South Carolina and Virginia; and amend the Energy Policy Act of 1975 by replacing the Energy Policy Assembly in the Department of Commerce with an Energy Jobs Council located within DENR.
Primary sponsors of Senate Bill 76 are E.S. Buck Newton, Bob Rucho and Andrew C. Brock. The bill was filed Monday and was set to go before the Senate Finance Committee later in the week.