Minus an approved budget, state geologists have yet to follow through on the General Assembly’s orders to collect rock samples in far Western North Carolina and test them for indications of natural gas.
In the meantime, fracking opponents across the region are organizing. In Jackson County, an anti-fracking meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 13, in the Community Room at the Jackson County Library.
Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill into law June 4 that allows gas exploration to begin in North Carolina as early as next spring.
“If they are allowed to do this we can kiss our wells goodbye,” said Bettie Ashby of Dillsboro. She is working with her sister, Ann Dunn, to coordinate the upcoming meeting in Jackson County. Another 10 to 14 people have expressed interest in forming the group, Ashby said.
Opponents fear fracking could contaminate drinking-water supplies. Supporters counter the combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling is safe when done properly. Companies inject, at high pressure, a cocktail of chemicals and water into rock, shattering it. This allows them to extract natural gas through the fractures.
Geologists both on and off the state’s payroll discount the likelihood of natural gas being discovered in WNC. Despite the professional naysaying, when the Republican-dominated General Assembly in 2011 decided to fund a two-year assessment into the oil and gas potential in this state, the Precambrian rift basin – located here, in the far Western section of the state – was included.
The General Assembly appropriated only a portion of the money needed for the two-year assessment: $300,000, enough to fund the 2013-14 portion. Now, to complete the study, state leaders must designate an additional $250,000 for 2014-15. Collecting the rock samples from Jackson and the six other westernmost counties has a projected cost of $11,725.
Other unfunded priorities in the plan include assessments in the Triassic rift basin in Pasquotank, Bertie and Anson counties, plus well improvements and flow tests in Lee County.
The Lee County region where the Piedmont and Sandhills kiss has been described as the epicenter of likely fracking activity in North Carolina. There is a two-century history of coal mining in the Deep River shale basin. And, there is definitely methane, the primary component in natural gas. The graves in Lee County of more than 200 miners, killed in various mine explosions, attest to that fact.
Late last week, Republican leaders in the House and Senate announced they’d reached agreements on major sticking points in passing a budget – teacher pay and who-gets-Medicaid. This means rock sampling and other fracking-related work is set to begin, said Bridge Munger of the N.C. Department of Natural Resources.
“Sampling is expected to occur in the next few months,” she wrote in an email on Monday.
A contracted company will test the rock collected. High organic content is key; anything less than 1.4-percent total organic carbon means no natural gas potential exists. Findings above that threshold would trigger additional analysis.