RALEIGH —State Rep. Ken Goodman says he didn’t “sell out” to energy giants; he bought in to reap fracking’s economic and clean-energy benefits.
The Rockingham Democrat was Richmond County’s only state lawmaker to vote for Senate Bill 786, which lifts a moratorium on fracking and will allow state regulators to issue permits for underground natural gas drilling as soon as next spring. Sen. Gene McLaurin, D-Richmond, and Rep. Garland E. Pierce, D-Hoke, voted against the bill on Thursday.
“I’ve studied it seriously and considered it seriously,” Goodman said Friday. “I would not have voted for it if I thought it was not good for the people in our district and the state of North Carolina.”
A 64-50 vote in the state Senate on Thursday sent SB 786, the N.C. Energy Modernization Act, to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk. He’s expected to sign it into law, paving the way for fracking permits to be issued as early as May 2015.
Fracking will bring high-paying jobs, tax revenue and greater availability of natural gas to the Tar Heel State, Goodman said. More natural gas could reduce reliance on coal-fired power plants, which are under the microscope after coal ash from a Duke Energy containment pond spilled into the Dan River in February.
“Natural gas is clean energy,” Goodman said. “Why should we say we want to receive all the benefit from clean energy and natural gas if we’re not willing to participate in exploration for the energy?”
Environmental groups say fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, can release toxic chemicals and contaminate drinking water. Goodman said North Carolina can learn from other states’ mistakes and place controls on the practice that greatly reduces that risk.
“We are going to have the toughest, most comprehensive set of rules for fracking in the United States,” he said. “I really feel strongly that we can do it right. If it’s done responsibly, it can be done safely.”
Goodman serves on the Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy and toured fracking sites in Arkansas to learn about the science of natural gas exploration. He said he’s done his homework and required assurances that state regulators would safeguard against contamination that rendered some Pennsylvania drinking water flammable.
Thirty-nine other states allow hydraulic fracturing, Goodman said, and by studying their laws and the environmental effects there, North Carolina lawmakers are able to ensure best practices will be followed.
“After considering everything, I decided that, at the end of the day, it is a net benefit for the state of North Carolina,” he said. “It will create economic benefits for the state and create the opportunities that create jobs.”
Pierce, who joined demonstrations against fracking held at the state legislative building, said the bill doesn’t do enough to protect the environment. He joined McLaurin in standing against the measure.
“We didn’t have a chance to make a bad deal better,” Pierce said. “There’s just too many unanswered questions.”
Pierce said constituents who phoned and emailed his office were united in their opposition to fracking. Among his chief concerns is that the bill prevents city and county governments from establishing their own local regulations for the practice.
“There’s no local control, the city government and county government would have no control over the impact on local communities.” he said. “… I just think that’s going too far.”
The fracking bill lifts a 2012 moratorium that blocked permits until a state regulatory commission created what supporters called state-of-the-art safety and operating rules. The commission is set to issue its final rules by Jan. 1.
Civitas Media contributed to this story. Reach Editor Corey Friedman at 910-997-3111, ext. 13.