Bills Push for Gas Drilling
Bills being eyed in both chambers of the state legislature might allow controversial new ways of extracting natural gas lying beneath areas of Moore, Lee and Chatham counties.
State Sen. Harris Blake, of Moore County, is a co-sponsor of the bill that has bipartisan support in the Senate. Sen. Bob Atwater, of Chatham County, a Democrat, is also a co-sponsor. Blake is a Republican.
Both bills would allow horizontal drilling as well as vertical drilling in North Carolina, provided approval comes from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. At present, horizontal drilling, required for the process known as “fracking,” is not permitted in North Carolina.
“The law now says that you can drill straight down only. This bill would allow the use of a new technique allowing you to drill straight down, then go laterally into shale rock,” Blake said. “But in order to do that, you must have proper approval from the folks at DENR.”
Blake says the fact that the Senate bill has bipartisan support enhances its chances of passage.
In the House, state Rep. Mitch Gillespie has introduced a bill requiring a comprehensive study recommending laws needed to allow natural gas exploration, with environmental and safety safeguards included. Gillespie is a Republican whose district includes Burke and McDowell counties.
The House bill was not introduced until Thursday, and state Rep. Jamie Boles, the other legislator from Moore County, says he has not yet examined its content.
In January, local interest quickened when a public meeting was held for landowners who may eventually be asked to sign natural gas leases for exploration on their properties. It was an informational meeting only and did not involve a private company or the actual offering of leases.
Now it appears that the subject of horizontal drilling is arising through potential legislation.
Geologists have identified an estimated 1,400 square miles in parts of Lee, Chatham and Moore counties where natural gas may be found. If this is true, it’s possible the region could generate as much as a 40-year supply of natural gas for the state.
But the gas, trapped within shale formations, apparently cannot be extracted by vertical drilling alone, the only method allowed by existing law. To reach the gas supply, the law must be changed to allow energy companies to drill vertically until the shale gas formation is reached, then to drill horizontally along the shale formations spread out along hypothetical miles underneath the ground. Companies would be required to secure mining leases with property owners.
The technology involves hydraulic fracturing to crack the rocks and draw out the gas. Known informally as “fracking,” the technology is controversial in some environmental quarters and has critics.
However, Blake says the bill in the Senate would provide environmental protections by requiring permitting from DENR, and it offers the potential for economic growth in the northern part of Moore County.
Parts of northern Moore County, centered in the Deep River area, have long been targeted as a prospective source of gas and oil. Mining is nothing new to the area, which at one time produced large quantities of gold and more recently became the source of talc mining.
About 50 people attended a presentation on shale gas mining on Tuesday. Gillespie was among the speakers.
His bill calls for a comprehensive study to determine laws needed to move forward on the exploration for natural gas in North Carolina.
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