When the legislature voted last session to allow permits to be issued for natural gas exploration and production to begin in North Carolina, they also created the Mining and Energy Commission to develop a regulatory framework for the process of hydraulic drilling and horizontal fracturing, also known as “fracking.”
Once the draft regulations were presented to the General Assembly for legislative review, and possible amendment, the Environmental Management Commission (EMC) was required to review those rules and expand on them with a particular focus on protecting the environment — for the “prevention of pollution of water supplies by oil, gas, or other fluids used in oil and gas exploration and development.” The rules were to address:
- Stormwater control for sites on which oil and gas exploration and development activities are conducted, and;
- Regulation of toxic air emissions from drilling operations. In formulating appropriate standards, the Department shall assess emissions from oil and gas exploration and development activities that use horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies, including emissions from associated truck traffic, in order to:
- determine the adequacy of the State’s current air toxics program to protect landowners who lease their property to drilling operations, and;
- determine the impact on ozone levels in the area in order to determine measures needed to maintain compliance with federal ozone standards.
Bipartisan legislation introduced earlier this month (House Bill 172) tightens those safety standards even more by requiring that the EMC establish regulations addressing the establishment of technical standards and “best practices” to minimize emissions of any air toxins, volatile organic compounds, and other air pollutants — and to minimize leaks that result in the waste of natural gas or other hydrocarbons from activities and infrastructure used in the exploration, development, production, processing, and compression of natural gas.
Specifically, the legislation directs the EMC to also include:
- Technical standards and practices to minimize emissions and leaks from equipment and activities used in the exploration, development, production, processing, and compression of natural gas. Sources and activities shall include, but are not limited to, pneumatic controllers and pumps, compressors, wells, storage tanks, and dehydrators, and;
- Minimum standards for an instrument-based leak detection and repair program to ensure the elimination or minimization of emissions and natural gas leaks from equipment used to facilitate the exploration, development, production, processing, and compression of natural gas. The leak detection and repair program shall provide for routine inspection and maintenance of equipment and expeditious repair time.
The bill is now being taken up by the Committee on Environment.