Panel backs rules that would force residents into group selling underground natural gas

  • Posted: Friday, August 30, 2013 12:19 a.m.

RALEIGH (AP) — A study committee is recommending a rule that could force some North Carolina homeowners to sell natural gas under their homes and farm land.

The study group created by the state Mining and Energy Commission recommended using a rarely used 1945 law for what’s called forced or compulsory pooling when permits are allowed for shale gas exploration, or fracking, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported.

Wednesday’s recommendation is now headed to the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which is required to make its own recommendations to two legislative panels by Oct. 1. The General Assembly would ultimately have the final say over the rules.

Forced pooling is designed to protect local residents from inadvertently having gas under their property siphoned away without receiving compensation and prevents neighbors from profiting for what’s under someone else’s land. Fracking opponents also are prevented from blocking the ability of their neighbors to sell their natural gas.

Thousands of property owners could be affected in North Carolina’s gas-rich Lee, Moore and Chatham counties.

The study group recommended that at least 90 percent of acreage of a drilling area be voluntarily leased before remaining property owners are forcibly pooled. They also want safeguards instituted that would make property owners forced into pools immune from lawsuits against accidents or other damages.

The group included four members of the Mining and Energy Commission, including panel Chairman James Womack, who sounded conflicted over the rules.

“The problem we have with the passion to protect private property is that you’re giving power to certain individuals to shut down the industry,” said Womack, a member of the Lee County commission as well.

Therese Vick with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League told the study group it’s wrong to take away what she called personal freedoms to benefit a for-profit industry. “Personal freedoms are seldom on the radar when the gas companies come to town,” she said.

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