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AG's fracking protections would require disclosures, registrations, guarantees

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The N.C. Attorney General today issued a lengthy list of warnings and recommendations designed to protect the public from being exploited by the fracking industry.

The AG is urging the state legislature to approve the proposed safeguards if lawmakers proceed with legalizing fracking in this state, as some are vowing to do.

The provisions are intended to protect the public from high-pressure sales tactics, adverse financial impacts, property damage and other risks the public is typically exposed to but unaware of.

Or think of it as the Surgeon General's warning label for fracking: "There are risks to neighbors, communities and the State itself," the AG's report declares.

The AG's report comes on the heels of a 484-page study and recommendations issued Tuesday by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

One of the AG's recommendations would require that, at the time that property owners are offered a drilling lease for their land, they also receive a written disclosure saying the lease could negatively affect their ability to refinance or obtain future loans, and that drilling and fracking could cause property damage.

Another calls for a state law that would assume that any water contamination within 2,500 feet of a well bore was caused by fracking, unless the company could prove otherwise. Water contamination is one of the most hotly contested issues related to fracking, but the industry insists that the practice is safe and reliable.

Fracking refers to hydraulic fracturing, a method of mining for natural gas by pumping millions of gallons of water underground at high pressure to flush out the gas trapped in prehistoric shale rock formations.

This state is believed to sit atop a relatively small reserve of shale gas, in a formation measuring about 150 miles, with the highest concentrations of gas believed to be under Lee, Moore and Chatham counties.

Some state legislators are eager to legalize fracking as a way of tapping a domestic energy resource that is affordable and relatively clean-burning. Critics say that fracking poses numerous threats to public health and safety.

The AG's provisions would essentially codify into law the kinds of protections consumer advocates say should be included in private contracts between property owners and companies that drill and frack for natural gas. The contracts, or leases, allow drillers to access gas several thousand feet underground, often without setting foot on the property by means of horizontal drilling.

The recommendations would require, among other things, that:

All landmen, or those who sign leases for drillers, be registered with the state;

Property owners be fully compensated for all property damage;

Property owners be indemnified against lawsuits over damage by neighbors or other third parties;

Property owners have 30 days to cancel their lease after they have a chance to review it and think about the risks.

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About the blogger

John Murawski has been a full-time newspaper reporter since 1991, with stints at Legal Times and The Chronicle of Philanthropy (both in Washington, DC), The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Palm Beach Post (in South Florida) before arriving at the N&O in December 2004. At the N&O he covers energy (nuclear, coal, renewable, efficiency), hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking"), public utilities and health care. His beat includes PSNC Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, Duke Energy Progress, PowerSecure International, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Biogen Idec and others. He has also contributed more than 30 book reviews on topics spanning botany, history, science and religion. You can reach him at 919-829-8932 or e-mail him.