Editor’s note: The INDY has contacted the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press regarding the actions of Sen. Rick Gunn.
Fracking isn’t legal in North Carolina yet, but already legislation is moving through the Senate that would criminalize anyone who discloses trade secrets “received in connection with permitted oil and gas activities.”
This afternoon two Senate committees passed S786, the Energy Modernization Act, a giant bill which would make the state’s ride on the fast-track to fracking less safe. The bill is expected to go before the entire Senate later this week.
And during the hearing, the committee chairman, state Sen. Rick Gunn, (R-Burlington), stated twice that all recording equipment needed to be registered with the sergeant-at-arms, before it could be used, even though this was a public meeting.
This restriction is unprecedented; in fact, committee meetings held in Rooms 540 and 643 of the Legislative Office Building have audio feeds that allow the public to stream the hearings on the Internet. The commerce meeting was held in Rooms 1027 and 1128 of the Legislative Building, which can accommodate large crowds, but is not streamed live.
(The Sergeant at Arms confiscated the audio recorder of Rose Hoban of NC Health News , after she did not register her recorder, reports The Progressive Pulse. However, reporters in the chamber with smart phones, which also can record audio and video, did not have to register their equipment.
With press freedoms curbed, the bill, which also packs in some substantial incentives for drilling companies, now goes to the Senate Finance Committee.
Sponsored by Republican Senators Newton, Brock and Rucho, provisions include:
– Extension of the rule development deadline: The reconstituted Mining and Energy Commission, tasked with developing fracking rules for the state, now has until Jan. 1 of next year to adopt a modern regulatory program for oil and gas management and fracking. This is a three month extension on the Commission’s original deadline, probably because so many unanswered questions—how to dispose of toxic wastewater, whether drilling will be forced on landowners, how to control for water quality and regulate gaslines—are still floating around. The Commission and DENR can begin to issue drilling permits July 1, 2015.
-Exemptions from the Administrative Procedures Act: These exemptions essentially allow lawmakers to skirt longstanding procedures for how and when fracking legislation can be introduced and reviewed.
-Trade Secrets: Only a handful of people will get to know trade secrets associated with permitted oil and gas activities. These include the state geologist, DENR and Mining and Energy people, as well as the Division of Emergency Management. If a first responder were to disclose any trade secret information they stumbled upon in the course of their dealing with a fracking-related emergency, he or she would incur a Class 1 felony. That’s a minimum of 4 to 6 months of community punishment—probation, community service, restitution or fines—for blabbing.
– Reduced fees for drillers: These will drop from $3,000 per well drilled to $3,000 for the first well and $1,500 for each additional well in the same area.
-Decreasing the area around wells that drilling companies are responsible for, from 5,000 feet from a well, to a ½ mile radius. But property owners should be reassured: they can ask DENR to check their water for contamination at any time.
-Invalidate local ordinances: Local governments can absolutely not prohibit oil and gas exploration, development and production activities. Even if their citizens want them to.
-Bad Actors: DENR gets to decide who and who doesn’t get a permit to drill in North Carolina by conducting an environmental compliance review.
-Legal earthquakes: Trespassing laws won’t apply to seismic and geophysical data collection, as long as no one’s physically entering private land without permission. A fracking trespassing violation will net you a Class 1 felony misdemeanor: 1-45 days of community punishment.
As Sen. Rucho said, it’s a great opportunity for North Carolina to stimulate economic growth and create jobs.