State legislators are painting a pretty picture of gobs of jobs and tax revenue, but it's not a retro scene of tobacco or furniture in the 1950s. Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and its promise of economic boom has caught their eyes. Seeking to drill into its potential, lawmakers have brought the idea to the General Assembly, where questions of environmental preservation have dominated discussion about the controversial means of extraction. But something more fundamental to the industry's success or failure will determine whether North Carolina's supply of shale gas generates even a flicker of game-changing economic activity.
Three years ago, state legislators began plotting a course to allow hydraulic fracturing. Better known as fracking, it involves injecting pressurized fluid through a well to push, a part rock deep with in the earth and release trapped natural gas. It has met resistance everywhere it has been suggested, and the battle over the potential for water contamination was no different here. Lawmakers ran into then-Gov. Beverly Perdue, a Democrat, who was reluctant to lead a headlong rush to exploit gas reserves. She killed legislation last year that would have paved the way for fracking in the state. Overriding her veto just days later, lawmakers next assembled a commission to devise rules for fracking. With new Republican Coy. Pat McCrory supporting efforts to take advantage of the state's natural-gas reserves, legislators are pursuing a measure that would lift the ban on fracking and allow permitting for natural-gas wells by March 2015.
It is not clear yet whether the latest legislation will pass both chambers of the General Assembly or if the 2012 law will continue to govern development of oversight. Regardless, state Senate leaders are keen on keeping the hail rolling. Both Sen. Buck Newton, a Wilson Republican who is the chief sponsor of the current proposal, and Sen. Bob Rucho, a Charlotte Republican who sponsored last year's bill, forecast a flurry of natural-gas drilling and transporting and spillover jobs producing barrels of tax revenue for state coffers. "It is unfortunate we weren't able to do this four or five years ago," Newton said recently.
But is replicating fracking efforts in the Marcellus Shale formation, which covers parts of Pennsylvania and two other states, realistic for North Carolina? Solving the...