Looking up at the legislative building in downtown Raleigh, Earla Pope removed a silver canteen from her purse.
“This is what’s important,” she said, shaking the bottle filled with water from an aquifer near her home in Wilmington. “Science is telling us that 40 years from now fresh water will be what’s valuable — not gasoline.”
Pope, who has been a member of the Sierra Club since the late ’90s, joined about 200 protestors at Tuesday’s Frack Free Lobby Day. The group marched from Marbles Kids Museum to the legislative building and petitioned the Senate Commerce Committee to vote against Senate Bill 820, which would legalize fracking in North Carolina.
But the vehement outcries of “no fracking way” and “our health vs. corporate wealth” that spilled out of the overflowing meeting room did not influence the senators’ decision: the bill passed in a voice vote that fell along party lines and will head to the Senate floor for discussion later this week.
If the bill passes through the Senate and the House, it will allow fracking to begin as early as 2014. Regulation of the industry would fall to a new commission in the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, a point that worried many protestors because of the department’s lack of funding.
Senator Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg) ,the bill’s sponsor, said the committee’s passage of the bill was a compromise plan because it moves to legalize the practice for studying purposes but requires the legislature’s consent before commercial permits can be issued.
For Senator Martin Nesbitt (D-Buncombe), the bill’s committee passage came too quickly and avoided the discussion of eminent domain issues and the actual supply of available shale gas, which is now estimated at about five years.
“As we say in the mountains, I think we’re going about this bass-ackwards,” Nesbitt said. “I don’t want a 90 percent chance this won’t harm our water, I need to know 100 percent for certain. If this damages our water table, there won’t be enough money in the world to fix it.”