RALEIGH - In the event that shale gas exploration and production is permitted in North Carolina, formal standards and technical criteria should be developed as part of an oil and gas regulatory program, according to a report put together by a nonprofit organization asked by state environmental officials to review the state's readiness. The request for review was made as part of a legislatively mandated study of oil and gas exploration in North Carolina.
State Review of Oil & Natural Gas Environmental Regulations Inc. (STRONGER), a nonprofit organization whose board is comprised of state, industry and public interest representatives, conducted a review of the environmental regulatory programs of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources against national guidelines developed by STRONGER. The review was conducted last fall by a stakeholder review team consisting of two representatives of the public interest, two representatives from the oil and gas industry, a state representative and official observers.
STRONGER’s report concluded that DENR has mature environmental programs and has staff with significant experience in their various disciplines related to air quality, water quality, water resources, waste management and land resources. While the state’s environmental programs are strong, the programs have not been developed in anticipation of regulating oil and gas exploration and production activities. The STRONGER report recommends that the state develop formal standards and technical criteria for exploration and development activities if North Carolina establishes an oil and gas regulatory program. Specific standards are needed to ensure that state environmental staff, the industry and the public are aware of regulatory expectations and to focus permit review on the impacts of oil and gas development.
Session Law 2011-276 directed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to study the issue of oil and gas exploration in the state and to specifically focus on the use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to extract shale gas. DENR staff is currently in the midst of this study, and the draft report on this study will be completed and posted on DENR’s website in mid-March. Findings from the draft report will be presented at two public meetings, scheduled for March 20 and March 27, and public comments will be accepted at both meetings as well as via mail and email.
To learn more about the shale gas issue and the legislative study, an NCDENR website provides an overview of the issue; describes current regulations associated with shale gas exploration; explains how the department is studying the issue (and will provide study results when complete); guides the public in how to receive updates on the study, and will provide information on how to comment on the draft report once it is available. This website can be found by visiting DENR’s home page – www.ncdenr.gov – and clicking on the “Shale Gas” tab near the center of the page. A link to the STRONGER report can be found on the “Public Input/Contact” page of this site.