Last week, Republican North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed an industry-friendly fracking bill that lifts the state’s 2012 ban on hydraulic fracturing, prohibits local governments from banning the practice, and allows energy companies to force emergency responders to sign confidentiality agreements barring disclosures of the chemicals used. The measure has environmentalists up in arms, particularly because it demonstrates energy companies’ influence over legislation and makes it illegal to disclose potentially hazardous chemicals used in fracking. In 20 other states, including Wyoming and Pennsylvania, health and environmental concerns have caused state governments to require some disclosure of fracking chemicals. But under North Carolina’s new law, while doctors and fire chiefs would have access to information about the chemicals for health and safety purposes, disclosing the chemicals will have serious consequences. The “Energy Modernization Act,” which lawmakers passed at the end of May and sent to the governor’s desk, allows oil and gas companies to press charges against anyone who violates the agreements. Those who speak out about the chemicals could be charged with a misdemeanor. An earlier version of the bill would have allowed for felony charges, but following public objection, the offense was lessened. Fracking opponents have already condemned the law. State Representative Pricey Harrison, a Democrat who voted against the bill, told Reuters: "We promised the people of North Carolina we were not going to move forward with fracking until we have rules in place to protect the public health and the environment," said Harrison. "This bill violates that promise." How much the public is entitled to know about these chemicals has been fiercely debated by policymakers, oil and gas companies, healthcare providers and the public in states like North Carolina and Florida. But most states have gone the opposite way and required some form of chemical disclosure, over protests from the gas and oil industry. As Mother Jones reported earlier this week, the energy industry may have influenced the terms of the new law: Many North Carolina officials have come down hard on the side of industry … The North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission, which is writing fracking regulations to complement the Energy Modernization Act, put off approving a near-final chemical disclosure rule because Haliburton—a major player in the fracking industry—complained that the proposal was too strict.
Jessica Corbett, a former In These Times intern, is a Maine-based staff writer at Common Dreams. Follow her on Twitter at @corbett_jessica.