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House passes bill in support of off-shore drilling, gas fracking

In a largely party-line vote, the state House approved a Republican-backed bill that rewrites state energy policy to promote and approve of the drilling of natural gas on land and off the coast.

Supporters of Senate Bill 709 said drilling would create revenue for the cash-strapped state government and jobs for North Carolinians by creating a regulatory atmosphere that is more "pro business."

Republican lawmakers brushed aside concerns raised by Democrats about the potential for an off-shore spill to negatively impact coastal tourism and the possible contamination of drinking wells through the use of a controversial gas drilling technique that relies on the hydraulic fracturing underground rock, known as fracking.

"It's time to get crackin' on frackin'," said an enthusiastic Rep. John Blust, a Greensboro Republican. "If we're worrying about tourism, do you think $4 a gallon gas is going to affect tourism. We need more fossil fuels in this country."

Democrats objected to the often-repeated GOP talking point that drilling for natural gas will reduce gasoline prices and reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil. There are not believed to be sizable deposits of oil off the North Carolina coast.

After a study was quoted as saying that increased domestic oil production would have a negligible impact on gasoline prices, Blust countered that such economic analyses were produced by "whackos in an ivory tower."

An attempt by Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat, to amend the bill to add renewable energy sources such as wind power and wave power to the list of options for creating new energy was defeated.

Harrison pointed out that tourism generates many more jobs and revenue in the state than even the most rosy of forecast for drilling.

"We have a tourism economy that depends on a clean coast," Harrison said.

Republican supporters countered that the bill designates the first $500 million the state earns through off-shore drilling royalties to a special fund to clean up the environmental damage from any accident or spill.

The bill, a version of which has already passed the Senate, was approved 67-44.

Randall attempts to backtrack while standing firm

William "Bill" Randall is trying to distance himself from his earlier suggestion that the federal government and BP colluded to intentionally cause the Gulf spill oil, even as he simultaneously stands by what he said.

The Republican congressional candidate called a media conference Thursday after video of his earlier statements had gone viral on the internet, reposted by media outlets and left-leaning bloggers across the country.

His opponent in the June 22 GOP primary runoff, Bernie Reeves, has also sought to make political hay from Randall's conspiracy theory about the explosion of the Deep Water Horizon rig, which resulted in 11 deaths and the worst environmental calamity in U.S. history.

Standing at a lectern outside the doors of a church, Randall, who has aligned himself with the Tea Party movement, began by reading a prepared statement.

"I would like to set the record straight on my position with respect to this disaster," Randall said, reading from the text. "First and foremost, I have not and still do not accuse any person or entity, private or government, of wrongdoing. Speculation is one thing. Accusations are entirely different."

So, Dome asked, does he want to back away from his earlier statement suggesting the Obama Administration and BP spilled oil on purpose?

"I don't want to back away from any call for a thorough investigation into this situation," Randall replied. "I think that we have a responsibility to do that, and anything short of that is not serving the American people."

So does Randall believe the federal government intentionally spilled the oil?

"Sir, I don't think you can take anything from my statement that indicates that," Randall said.

On Tuesday, Randall was asked if he supported President Obama's six-month moratorium on new deep water drilling for a safety review in wake of the disaster.

"Personally, and this is purely speculative on my part and not based on any fact, but personally I feel there is a possibility that there was some sort of collusion," Randall said. "I don't know how or why, but in that situation, if you have someone from a company proposing to violate the safety process and the government signing off on it, excuse me, maybe they wanted it to leak. But then it got beyond what was anticipated."

Asked Thursday if he had misspoken or if he felt his earlier statement had been misconstrued, Randall said: "My statements are a matter of record. If you want to review them and derive whatever conclusion you want to derive, you are free to do that."

Randall then began reading again verbatim from his prepared remarks.

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