State agency gives contradictory accounts on WNC gas exploration but reveals area of interest

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Last week, Mitch Gillespie, an assistant secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, told a legislative environmental committee that his agency planned to study potential natural gas deposits in Western North Carolina. But a DENR spokesman now tells Carolina Public Press that no funds had been appropriated to conduct such a study.

WNC geologic map

The areas marked in brown on this geological map of Western North Carolina contain the type of rock that make them a potential source of natural gas, though chances of there being significant gas deposits there are said to be slim. Image courtesy N.C. Geological Survey.

DENR public information officer Jamie Kritzer on Wednesday identified the location of the potential study, which had not been previously disclosed. It would include parts of North Carolina’s seven westernmost counties: Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain.

“Based on rock sampling and geologic mapping conducted by the N.C. Geological Survey during the past three decades, DENR has determined that geologic formations in an area known as the Precambrian rift basin in Western North Carolina have the potential to contain natural gas,” Kritzer said.

In response to recent state legislation, DENR is scouting locations that would be conducive to fracking, a controversial method of extracting natural gas using pressurized water and chemicals.

“The agency is still a long way from determining whether this region contains oil and natural gas resources and whether those resources are abundant enough to make energy exploration feasible,” Kritzer added. “As part of a long-range plan, the department has determined rock sampling and additional research is necessary in this region to determine whether the potential organic rich formation contain oil or natural gas.”

At an Environmental Review Commission hearing Nov. 13, Gillespie said that DENR had dedicated $11,725 of already appropriated state funds to conduct a study in WNC.

“If you look there in Western North Carolina, there’s a possible (shale gas) basin out there,” he said. “And we’re going to go out there … to see what the rock looks like, and actually pick up some rocks.”

Kritzer, however, gave a contradictory account of the situation.

“At this time, DENR does not have an appropriation from the General Assembly needed to conduct testing in Western North Carolina,” he said.

Gillespie has not responded to Carolina Public Press’s requests for comment.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Hendersonville Republican who sits on the Environmental Review Commission and voted against recent legislation that paves the way for fracking, said that he contacted both Gillespie and State Geologist Kenneth Taylor yesterday seeking more information.

The conversations left McGrady convinced, he said, that the chances of finding substantial natural gas deposits in WNC are practically nil.

“There doesn’t seem to be anything to this,” he said. “No one seems to view it as anything worth studying right now. This would be a wild goose chase, from what I can tell.”


Read more

More of Carolina Public Press’s reporting on fracking can be found here, including:

Will fracking impact WNC? Enviro group: ‘Not likely’

McDowell’s Gillespie pushes for hydraulic fracturing in NC

WNC legislator says his proposal for formal state study of natural gas fracking will ‘set the stage for us for the next step’

 

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About the Author

Jon Elliston

Jon Elliston is the Investigations and Open Government Editor at Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jelliston@carolinapublicpress.org.

3 Comments on "State agency gives contradictory accounts on WNC gas exploration but reveals area of interest"

  1. Dr. Jim Reynolds November 22, 2013 at 11:31 am · Reply

    I am a professional geologist, sedimentologist, and stratigrapher. There is NO gas left in the Precambrian basin. Wasting even one penny to drive out to western NC to collect a rock is a joke. All surface rocks are metamorphic and had any methane they contained squeezed out of them hundreds of millions of years ago. Although it is possible that faulting may have thrust the metamorphic rocks sedimentary rocks over younger Paleozoic sedimentary rocks, they would be thousands of meters below the surface and are extremely unlikely to still contain gas.

  2. William Blackley, MD November 23, 2013 at 6:04 pm · Reply

    I can understand why people in Western North Carolina are skeptical about reassurances. Mr. Mitch Gillespie is second in command to the Secretary of DENR so surely one would think he knows what he’s talking about.

  3. Dale Weaver December 3, 2013 at 2:52 pm · Reply

    I’d be interested in State Geologist Kenneth Taylor’s thoughts about the subject. What with the earthquakes in Northern states that use the fracking method, I’m not sure I’d want this kind of thing in my backyard.

    Thanks, Dr. Reynolds, for your comment. The insight into the actual geology I find incredibly interesting. Though I must say, with two doctors in the comment section, I feel vastly unqualified.

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