NC counties could face natural gas drilling

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the name of a center at Duke University. This article has been revised to reflect this correction. Reesenews apologizes for the error.

A controversial technique for drilling natural gas may soon be put to use in the Triangle area.

The technique, known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has been blamed for environmental damage in other states.

Under current state laws, fracking is illegal. The law prevents horizontal drilling, a component of the fracturing process. Regulations against underground waste injection also prevent shale gas from being extracted.

But some North Carolina state legislators have proposed bills to permit studies on the effects of hydraulic fracturing, which could lead to a change in regulations. Overturning current laws would allow gas and oil companies to begin drilling. Already, reports of natural shale gas reserves have spurred oil and gas companies to buy up land and mineral rights in Chatham, Lee and Moore counties.

History of hydraulic fracturing

As early at the 1940s, oil and gas companies such as Standard Oil and Haliburton began using hydraulic fracturing. Today, the states of Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky, and West Virginia, located above the gas-laden Marcellus Shale rock formation in the northeast, bear the biggest brunt of industry extraction efforts.

Geologist estimates have determined that the Marcellus Shale contains between 168 and 516 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. To put this number in perspective, North Carolina used approximately 245,000 million cubic feet of natural gas in 2009 — less than 1 percent of gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale.

“North Carolina has an existing law that prohibits horizontal drilling, which limits fracking, so we have the opportunity to be thoughtful and not rush into development of this industry before we’re ready,” said Bill Holman, director of state policy at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

The North Carolina Geologic Survey released a study in 2008 that identified more than 59,000 acres for prospective exploration, mainly in the Deep River Basin located in Chatham, Moore and Lee counties.

Although the reserves in North Carolina are more modest than those in the Marcellus Shale, Lee County records show that companies such as WhitMar Co., an oil and gas exploration company from Colorado, have already bought thousands of acres of mineral and land lease rights.

Whether North Carolina has the infrastructure and resources to handle this industry is one of the many topics under debate. Regardless, the state is unlikely to see major change this year.

“The state is unprepared to regulate the industry today,” Holman said.

The process and complications

Much of the opposition to hydraulic fracturing is centered on the process itself. This complex method of gas extraction retrieves natural gas from several thousands of feet under the surface. Extraction companies pump a mixture of water, gas and chemicals into the earth at high pressure, causing fractures to open and release the gas. Gas may continue to flow for as many as 10 years, according to Chesapeake Energy.

Rachel Lang-Baldé, the outreach coordinator at the nonprofit organization Clean Water for North Carolina, said using this method to retrieve natural gas would require more state resources and regulation than North Carolina can afford.

“The ideal of using it to get to a green fuel economy seems kind of silly,” Lang-Baldé said. “I don’t think that ideal ever exists in reality.”

Lange-Baldé added that the lack of information concerning the potential for accidents or possible effects on the environment or public health is also concerning.

“Obviously gas prices are going up, so people are concerned about that and about using too many oil resources from other countries, but we need to look long term at what the impacts will be and if the negative will outweigh the positive in North Carolina,” she said.

Oil and gas companies are not as willing to take chances when it comes to North Carolina’s potential resources. In February, Kenneth Taylor, assistant state geologist at the N.C. Geological Survey, estimated that almost 10,000 acres of Lee County land have already been leased to drilling companies by landowners.

“These companies are approaching landowners and attempting to lease mineral rights in areas deemed to have natural gas because they expect the laws governing hydraulic fracturing will change in the near future,” said Jordan Treakle from the Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA. “They’re trying to buy mineral rights before this law changes so that in the future they will be able to start drilling as soon as laws change.”

Treakle said that the economic benefits of fracking are unlikely to last. The influx of workers, equipment and resources will boost local economies only temporarily, he said.

“I think what we’re going to see eventually is regulation that requires disclosure of what’s in fracturing fluids,” said David Spencer, co-director of the Energy Management and Innovation Center and a professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Oil and gas companies involved in hydraulic fracturing are exempt from requirements to report hazardous materials on site to the Environmental Protection Agency. The industry has also been exempt from regulations that limit the injection of waste into underground wells to protect drinking water.

Both Spence and Lange-Baldé agree that research, such as the ongoing study by the EPA to be released in 2012, could have a large impact on the future of fracturing.

“If North Carolina is going to do this in any way, it seems reasonable to get all the facts on the table,” Lange-Baldé said. “To push for it before we see all the impacts or have the research to back it up seems irresponsible.”

Researching risks and benefits

Some members of the state legislature seem to have begun to push for information about the industry and its potential impact. North Carolina Rep. Mitch Gillespie recently introduced a bill to the state legislature proposing a study on hydraulic fracturing and natural gas in North Carolina.

With gas companies buying up mineral rights in thousands of acres in Lee County and the surrounding areas, the time has come to take action, Gillespie said in a phone interview.

“By doing nothing, what will happen is those gas companies are going to start lobbying the general assemblies because they’re tying up thousands of dollars in leases,” Gillespie said. “They’re going to come down to the General Assembly and flood the building in droves, and try to lobby members into changing laws so that you can do this type of drilling.”

But the majority of environmental damage and drilling-related accidents can be avoided, according to industry advocates.

“There have been some instances of blowouts at the well and other normal industrial accidents, it’s something we’re working on obviously,” said Chris Tucker, the spokesperson for nonprofit organization Energy In Depth, an advocate of the method. “Unfortunately, if someone stubs their toe at a hydraulic fracturing site, they blame hydraulic fracturing — even if it hasn’t even happened yet, or happened years ago.”

Tucker and Holman both said that the hundreds of feet of impermeable rock separating fracturing activities and groundwater tables mean the risk of contamination is minimal.

“I would agree that if it’s properly designed, drilled, cased and plugged, the threats of groundwater pollution should be reduced,” Holman said, adding that natural gas could, however, contaminate water without proper oversight and execution.

As long as this method of gas extraction is illegal in North Carolina, researchers have an opportunity to collect baseline data that other states lack. An examination of current well chemical compositions would help identify the impact of fracturing if laws are overturned, he said.

The ability of these natural gas reserves to provide substantial amounts of energy to North Carolinians — energy less environmentally damaging than coal — is also a point made by both experts and advocates of the technique.

“Natural gas is the cleanest of the fossil fuels, and so it can help us generate cleaner electricity, replace fuel for coal and provide cleaner transport fuel than oil,” Holman said.

Despite the reality that North Carolina is unlikely to see regulations restricting hydraulic fracturing overturned in the near future, if at all, the debate is likely to continue as North Carolinians research potential effects on the state.

As a state legislator, Gillespie has received criticism for what some skeptics perceive to be an indirect way to promote hydraulic fracturing. However, he said that with this bill, that is not the case.

“I’ve said from day one that if it’s not safe and we can’t do it safely, I’ll stop pushing for it and I’ll work against it.”

  1. [...] NC counties could face natural gas drilling | Reesenews Description : Rachel Lang-Baldé, the outreach coordinator at the nonprofit organization Clean Water for North Carolina, said using this method to retrieve natural gas would require more state resources and regulation than North … http://reesenews.org/2011/06/0 .. [...]

    Pingback by Natural Gas Reserves State - OIL WORLD – OIL WORLD on June 20, 2011 at 4:23 pm

  2. I am a drilling Consultant who has worked in the industry for 35+ years and drilled countless wells all over the world. I have never been on a well that had any issue of blow-out, ground water contamination, or environmental contamination. This is not luck, it is because almost all of us in the drilling industry are very careful in what we do and we follow solid industry standads for drilling, completeing and fracing these type wells. I would love to see drilling in NC…..I live in SC and currently have to travel a minimum of 12 hours to any of the current active plays. Drilling will bring many jobs to the Triangle area, and not just short term. These projects (if prolific) have lifespans of 8 – 12 years. They not only create new jobs, but they boost businesses like resturants, hotels, RV parks, grocery, and many more Mom and Pop operations. Do something positive for NC….Let us Drill.

    Comment by Robert on July 9, 2011 at 10:39 pm

  3. Come to Texas before you open the door to shale gas drilling. You won't want to go down that path. No matter what they try to tell you about how wonderful it is.

    Comment by @WCGasette on July 25, 2011 at 3:58 pm

  4. Come to Pennsylvania I have lived here my entire life sand also have worked in the oil and gas industry for twenty. The safety regulations and the clean water act are very well monitored. As we are drilling for the big shales we are also creating high paying jobs this has been good for our state. Believe me the oil and gas drilling is not as bad a people see it on the local news and look at all the good paying jobs that your state would create.

    Comment by Mike Sostakowski on August 3, 2011 at 4:25 pm

  5. Thats strange because countless people throughout the US can light their water on fire due to the leaching of chemicals used in fracking. The industry's standards support one thing and that is money. You wouldn't know if any contamination happened because the public is virtually shunned away from talking to any drilling companies so that people like you would continue in its support. Check out the 2005 energy bill put on by the Bush administration because it specifically exempts natural gas drilling from the clean water act standards and also from disclosure of the 500 plus chemicals used in hydraulic fracking. I love that the two people supporting this work in this industry, are you getting paid for these comments too? Maybe you should stop drilling for a day and educate yourself on the environmental and health epidemics this drilling is causing. Maybe start with a documentary called "Gasland: A film by Josh Fox." Also, dependency on oil inevitably has to stop. We are ruining our environment and our health. Alternative energies would provide just as many if not more jobs to keep the economy circulating. Fossil fuels are the reason we are in this economic black hole in the first place.

    Comment by Jean on November 11, 2011 at 10:41 am

  6. Jean, you see documentries and think the people are telling the truth and you have no idea what you are talking about. "a film by josh fox" fracking happens thousands of feet down now, Back in the day, yes they drilled very shallow wells and may have contaminated things. the most somone drills a water well is 500'. The fracking in north carolina would have to go 7000 ft UP threw solid rock to effect the ground water. That will not happen.

    Comment by andrew on November 27, 2011 at 7:54 am

  7. Jobs, green fuels,economic recovery, this procedure has been around for a long time andhas a proven saftey record. Please do your research before printing such an article full of holes

    Comment by B. Wentzel on December 20, 2011 at 6:11 pm

  8. Studying this method is exactly what we should be doing. Bogging it down in "Red Tape" is more likely what will happen. This is why we are in the shape we are in as a nation. There is a right and wrong in everything. Advocates on both sides just need to be looking for the facts. If the studies show safe, within reason, lets drill. Lets face it we need the jobs. If not, we look at other methods. No brainer

    Comment by Alan N. on February 12, 2012 at 11:35 am

  9. Do you see any drilling on coastal Brunswick county near SC stateline? We have 2 tract 18 acres and 15.63 wired for heavy construction. If so, can you email me or call.
    eddie.cartrette@yahoo.com
    910-840-2354
    Thanks for your time

    Comment by Eddie Cartrette on March 12, 2012 at 7:59 pm

  10. I have 3 acres, have never signed off my mineral rights, they have wells on all 4 sides of my property, close to my line, I know they have a right to drill, and they did, but why have they gone from a $300.00 offer to me still, to now a $10.000 thousand offer. Due you suppose they illeagaly drilled across my property to frack, something is weird, appreciate any input……..bill41a@roadrunner.com

    Comment by william anderson on March 18, 2012 at 3:43 pm

  11. henry grant

    before you do all of this drilling, please answer this one question. how many of you live where this fracking will take place? how many have to put up with all that will take place in your back yard?

    Comment by henry grant on March 20, 2012 at 7:59 pm

  12. HI Jean:

    1. Do you personally KNOW anyone who can light their water on fire?
    2. Do you have names and addresses of any of these people?
    3. Are these comments, supported by solid, verifiable facts

    Show me.

    I do not work for anyone, and i donate my time to do water engineering in communities that need assistance..

    Comment by JonathanChristopher on March 24, 2012 at 9:37 am

  13. Look closely at Bradford County Pennsylvania at the impact that has been felt throughout the community. There are households and farms that have had there well waters contaminated made undrinkable and unbathable. Some proerty values have skyrocketted some have plumetted. Methane gas released into the well waters has caused tap water to become flamable and worse case scenerios have been explosions due to build up of methane gas. Some people have had chromine and Bromine in there water. Elevated salt levels are now being found. Road traffic has been impossible.
    Beware, when you sign that lease you are giving up your rights to your land. There is the infrastructure of pipelines that weave the countryside taking out 20 to 40 foot swatches of woods for miles and miles linking all these well sites together and then finally to the main lines to take the gas to market.
    Also this fracking process involes hundreds of tractor trailor trips of water to and from each well site 24 hours a day for weeks at a time. My list of horrors goes on. Do your homework. We were blindsighted.

    Comment by Deb Mack on March 29, 2012 at 10:13 am

  14. What we found was that early on the leases are bought on speculation but as the exploration begins and gas is a reality the value goes up to $3000 and $5000 or more an acre, This is not unreasonable. However depending where you live and set back laws they could potentially take the gas from under you and never compensate you if you are unleased. Ask for no suface rights if you can.

    Comment by Deb Mack on March 29, 2012 at 10:18 am

  15. Why are you assuming that something bad will happen off the top?…Lets do the research and make a determination based on fact, not speculation…..

    Comment by Karl Peterson on April 26, 2012 at 6:04 pm