RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- The North Carolina Senate has approved legislation to prepare issuing permits for underground natural gas exploration in the state.
The Senate bill approved Tuesday authorizes regulators to issue horizontal drilling and fracking permits starting in March 2015. That's five months after a regulatory commission is expected to finalize rules governing the drilling. The General Assembly authorized fracking in 2012 but said permits couldn't be issued without the express consent of legislators.
Republican lawmakers said the permits are needed to create jobs and capitalize on the national boom in gas exploration. Several Democrats said the new GOP-backed bill weakens or repeals many of the protections for surface landowners and the environment approved by lawmakers less than a year ago.
The measure now goes to the state House for consideration.