Backyard Talk

Fracking Under Fire in North Carolina

North Carolina communities have gained a temporary reprieve from the threat of fracking. Last week, Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald W. Stephens ruled that North Carolina is not allowed to approve any applications for hydraulic fracturing until the state Supreme Court determines whether or not the North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission was formed constitutionally.

Legislators appointed the majority of the commission’s members when it was formed – an action that falls under the authority of the governor, not lawmakers. According to Therese Vick of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, the decision “essentially puts a de facto moratorium on permitting activities in North Carolina until the case is heard in June or July.”

Areas of N.C. at risk from fracking. (

N.C. governor Pat McCrory has challenged the formation of this and other commissions, claiming the appointment of commission members by lawmakers rather than the executive branch violates the constitutional requirement for separation of powers. According to Vick, this is one of the most surprising aspects of the case – that it was brought by a governor who has not been an outspoken opponent of hydraulic fracturing. Environmental groups have also challenged the Commission’s legality. The Southern Environmental Law Center brought a case on behalf of a Lee County landowner alleging the commission was formed unconstitutionally, and that it cannot legally process or approve any applications for fracking installations.

So far, the Commission has set fracking regulations but has not approved any drilling units in the state. It remains to be seen whether the forthcoming decision will keep things that way, but delay can often serve as a powerful tool in preventing harmful environmental actions. Vick thinks the case may very well be successful, and that any rules made by an unconstitutional commission could be “declared null and void.” Though we will have to wait until later in the summer for a decision, Vick says the BREL is “very pleased.”

Though the ultimate decision will rest in the legal realm, it is on-the-ground organizing that has made a major difference. Vick points out  that “the organizing and activism and resistance that held [fracking] off this long was what gave time for an opportunity to present itself for a legal hook.” According to Vick, any victories must be attributed to the hard work done by citizens across the state.

Though N.C. citizens may consider this a victory, the resistance to fracking is far from over. Says Vick, “It’s not a time to sit back and take a break – it’s time to push even harder.”