The controversial oil and gas extraction process known as fracking took another step toward legalization in North Carolina Tuesday.
The state formally opened a public comment period, a time when anyone can officially weigh in on the rules that will ultimately govern fracking.
Over the past two years, the state Mining and Energy Commission has written more than 100 of those rules. They include environmental regulations, such as what companies have to disclose about the mixture of chemicals pumped into the ground during the fracking process, and economic considerations, such as what kind of contracts landowners can sign.
Once the comment period ends in September, a few steps remain:
- The Mining and Energy Commission must respond to the comments and publish final rules, with possible tweaks based on the comments.
- The Rules Review Commission, a panel appointed by state lawmakers, votes on the package of rules.
- Unless state lawmakers pass a bill to block or change the rules, they go into effect, and state regulators could begin permitting drilling companies in the spring of 2015.
Once the comment period ends in September, the commission must respond to them and publish final rules. Following that, another panel appointed by state lawmakers must approve them. And, come spring, state regulators can begin handing out permits for fracking in North Carolina.
The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources is accepting public comments on its website. It will also hold three in-person meetings in central North Carolina in August.