The town of Cary may tonight ask that state legislators leave local governments some power over oil and gas drilling. A Cary Town Council resolution would urge legislators to allow towns and cities to decide what local land is appropriate for fracking, the controversial method of natural gas extraction that the state may soon legalize.
Currently, the rules governing fracking are unclear because the practice is illegal in this state. But if the North Carolina General Assembly un-bans hydraulic fracturing this summer, drillers could pump highly pressurized water and chemicals to break up prehistoric shale rock formations that hold natural gas far underground.
Cary's proposal would not attempt to grant the town new powers or cement any policy in place; instead, it asks the General Assembly to "preserve local governments'" power to designate certain areas as appropriate or inappropriate for drilling. The resolution acknowledges the economic windfalls fracking might bring, but urges a "thoughtful and deliberative" approach to potential pitfalls.
It's unclear yet whether Cary will be a lucrative spot for the practice. West Cary is part of a large basin which may contain gas reserves, and the practice may influence Cary one way or another, but no potential drilling areas "have yet been identified in this area," according to a recent town report.
Shale gas is most strongly believed to exist beneath a 1,400-square-mile area centered around Lee, Moore and Chatham counties, and possibly including western Wake County.
Advocates of fracking say it will supply bountiful amounts of a relatively clean fuel to offset dirty coal and oil imported from hostile regimes. Critics say it can contaminate water, and cause earth tremors and other environmental and public health problems.
With new doors potentially opening for the gas industry, Cary and other cities are jockeying for local influence over the new industry. And early signs at the state level show legalization is a real possibility: A draft report by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, issued this month, stated that fracking can be done safely so long as protections are in place.
In other states, numerous local governments have made firmer attempts to regulate or restrict fracking, sometimes resulting in litigation by energy companies. In Cary, the Shale Gas Development Task Force, a board of residents and staffers who helped craft tonight's resolution, will continue to investigate the practice.