Is Gold Rush in Moore's Future?
Sunday, January 30, 2011
S.P. Native Pioneered Law
A Southern Pines native, who has become the first woman to be city attorney for Fort Worth, Texas, is a pioneer in writing laws dealing with new gas mining methods. Click here for the story.
A wealth of natural gas may be hiding just under the surface in parts of Moore and surrounding counties, and state geologists are excited about the possibilities.
Once the nation’s biggest producer of gold, North Carolina has long been home to prospectors and miners. Mines in Robbins and Glendon even today ship tons of nonmetallic mineral products worldwide.
Now speculators and others are tying up mineral rights where they think this gas lies, offering cash bonuses for signing and even mailing out blank leases with checks attached.
Natural gas — the cleanest, most environmentally friendly fuel — could bring the next “rush” to the state. Already, residents around Sanford and nearby areas are signing leases.
Dan Butler, of Southern Pines, owns a great deal of mineral rights in these affected areas. They range from the northern and eastern sections of Moore County into parts of Lee and Chatham counties. Fortunes could be made overnight if what geologists suspect turns out to be true.
His father, Howard, bought the rights when he operated coal mines in the Sanford area years ago. His son is hoping more energy resources remain recoverable.
Butler says Dr. Jeffery C. Reid — a senior state geologist in Raleigh with the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources — has studied and written much about the possibility of extracting natural gas from shale formations laid down millions of years ago.
“This has been his pet project,” Butler said in a recent telephone interview. “He’s worked on it for years, off hours, not being paid by the state but working on the same project. He has proven fairly consistently that there is a lot of gas to be recovered there. There are companies now that are interested and want to do exploratory drilling to determine the feasibility.”
Changes in Law
The new interest focuses on a kind of shale laid down 225 million years ago during the first stages of the opening of the Atlantic Ocean, according to Reid. There has been a recent spurt of increased interest in the potential for natural gas production from these basins — particularly in Lee County, he says.
Some changes to state laws may be needed to get at this trove of energy. Most regulations that would apply were written before new methods of exploration and extraction developed.
“I am not aware of any recent legislation, but as you know the leadership in the General Assembly will change in January,” chief state geologist Jim Simons wrote Butler last November. “I don’t know how much the incoming leaders know about this matter. We are prepared to recommend changes to existing law and rules to allow modern exploration that is necessary to drill for shale gas.”
Just how feasible it will be for the General Assembly to alter the law to make even a test possible, Simons doesn’t know.
“We have not been asked for a proposal, nor have we proposed anything,” Simons said. “There are legal and technical ways to divide the spoils. I think there is a way to address that now. We are a government agency. It is our job to identify the resource and let the public know. That is our job. We try to tell people facts we know, and let facts tell the story.”
One fact is that to find out whether or not the shale gas can be practically mined would require tests and exploration using two processes not presently permitted: horizontal drilling followed by hydraulic fracture — called “frac’ing” — but both are illegal under current state laws, written in the 1940s.
In a telephone interview Thursday afternoon, Simons cited the fact that current regulations don’t allow drilling to deviate more than six degrees from vertical. That would bar the horizontal drilling method used to find and extract gas from shale. Horizontal drilling means first drilling down to the level of the shale bed but then turning the shaft sideways so it can bore deep into the shale.
Then, in frac’ing, great quantities of water containing a small amount of sand and even smaller amounts of other chemicals are forced under high pressure through the shale. The particles of sand fracture the shale and act as tiny props separating layers just enough to allow gas to flow and be pulled out.
It’s been a long time coming. All the continents were once one — a single continent called Pangea. North Carolina was near the equator. Pangea broke up, and continental plates separated into the various continents. That movement gave birth to huge basins like the Deep River basin.
Over hundreds of millions of years, sediment compressed great quantities of vegetation and other organic matter, which was compressed from above and heated from below to form natural gas, petroleum and other deposits deep in the ground.
“Formation requires that sedimentary deposits containing organic debris be buried at sufficient depths so that they are ‘cooked’ by the Earth’s natural heat over time,” Reid said in a report summarizing the state’s natural gas and oil potential. “With progressively deeper burial, the organic remains are converted to a substance called kerogen. The kerogen, in turn, is converted to natural gas and oil as depths of burial and corresponding temperatures and pressures increase.”
The originating organic matter came from ancient ferns and other plants that flourished when dinosaurs roamed the ancient Carolinas. As more and more of earth accumulated above their remains, tremendous pressures created “reducing conditions.”
“Shales accumulated under reducing conditions generally contain an abundance of organic matter and have long been recognized by petroleum geologists as potential petroleum source beds,” Reid’s report says. “Mesozoic basins formed by the collapse of the Earth’s crust and were filled by a variety of sediments from erosion of the nearby mountains. Exploration drilling records document the presence of natural gas and oil in the Deep River Mesozoic basin, thousands of feet beneath the Earth’s surface.”
That gas was not feasibly mine-able until horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing made it practical over the past 10 years or so. Now it can be mined.
“It is our interpretation that this shale is of fresh water origin,” Reid said on the phone. “That is somewhat different from other shales that are more of marine origin. It is somewhat thicker than most. In one locality, it is up around 800 feet thick. There is a wide range of thicknesses, but it is somewhat thicker than what you see in other shale basins.”
Recent Natural Gas Publications
For additional information contact: Dr. Jeffrey C. Reid, NC Geological Survey, 1612 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699‐1612; voice: 919.733.2423 x403; email: email@example.com
- Reid, Jeffrey C., Taylor, Kenneth B., and Cumberbatch, N.S. 2010, Digital compilation map Sanford sub‐basin, Deep River Basin, parts of Lee, Chatham and Moore Counties, North Carolina [Seismic lines, drill hole locations, geologic units (from Reinemund, 1955), hydrocarbon shows (gas, oil asphaltic – or combination), and %Ro in wells – Area within dotted line inferred extent of %Ro ≥ 0.8]: North Carolina Geological Survey, Open‐file report 2010‐07.
- Reid, Jeffrey C., 2009, “Natural gas and oil in North Carolina,” North Carolina Geological Survey, Information Circular 36, 8p (click here to see publication).
- Reid, Jeffrey C., and Taylor, Kenneth B., 2009, “Shale gas potential in Triassic strata of the Deep River Basin, Lee and Chatham counties, North Carolina with pipeline and infrastructure data,” North Carolina Geological Survey, Open‐File Report 2009‐01 (click here to see publication).
- Reid, Jeffrey C., and Milici, Robert C., “Hydrocarbon source rocks in the Deep River and Dan River Triassic Basins, North Carolina,” U.S. Geological Survey, Open‐File report 2008‐1108, 35 pages plus tables (click here to see the publication).
Abstracts ‐ AAPG abstracts are at AAPG Search and Discover at URL:
- Reid, Jeffrey C., and Taylor, Kenneth B., 2010, Shale Gas Potential in Triassic Strata of the Deep River Basin, 1Lee and Chatham counties, North Carolina: USA: Multidisciplinary Methods for Science Data Acquisition: 5th International Symposium on Oil and Gas Resources in Western Newfoundland, Canada (September 22‐24, 2010). There are no printed proceedings. The presentation is in two parts (A and B). (Click here to see abstract).
- Reid, Jeffrey C., Taylor, Kenneth B., and Simons, James D., 2010, North Carolina Shale Gas – A Progress Report – Lee, Chatham and Moore Counties: American Association of Petroleum Geologists’ Eastern Section Meeting, Kalamazoo, Michigan, September 25‐29, 2010, program with abstracts, p. 52.
- Abstract: Geology and Infrastructure Data for the Development of Shale Gas Wells in Triassic Strata of the Deep River Basin, Lee and Chatham Counties, North Carolina, USA, by Jeffrey C. Reid and Kenneth B. Taylor; #90095 (2009) (click here to see the abstract).
North Carolina Geological Survey: Recent Natural Gas publications – Mesozoic basins Updated 24 November 2010
- Abstract: Shale Gas Potential in Triassic Strata of the Deep River Basin, Lee and Chatham Counties, North Carolina, USA, by J. C. Reid and K. B. Taylor; #90095 (2009) (click here to see abstract).
See also extended presentation (PDF) on AAPG’s Search and Discovery site (click here to see the presentation).
Nobody can see through the ground. It takes geologic study and testing to form a good guess as to what lies beneath.
“We have a number of seismic lines, which is a means by which you can interpret the subsurface,” Reid said. “There are a number of holes that have been drilled over 20 years or so. We have a fairly comprehensive picture of what the subsurface looks like. We think the shale is as deep as 7,100 feet at some points.
“You can have a lot of words and imagery, but that is why we do reports and put things up on the Internet. We need a test well to see for sure if the shale gas is there. Shale, across the country and the world, is a major target for exploration.”
He and Simons are waiting for a report expected from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in March or April. They hope it will, at least, be a resource fact sheet. While they are not at present thinking of Moore County as a producing area, there will really be no way to know without tests and more study.
“Maybe it could be done with a joint venture with the USGS or a private party with the possibility of drilling a test well to see for sure if the gas is there,” Simons wrote Butler. “The General Assembly did appropriate some funding last session for the shale gas project.
“Jeff (Reid) is continuing his work completing information, data to the USGS for their report on the potential for the North Carolina Mesozoic basin. I don’t know how much legislative interest can be generated unless the USGS report indicates a favorable assessment.”
Simons and Reid have posted reports and presentations online with technical details, graphs and data. One is a presentation Reid made last fall in Newfoundland he thinks gives a good picture of what they now think the subsurface looks like.
“They give a pretty good picture of what we know at this time,” Reid said. “That’s why we put stuff up on the Web for people to see.”
Some of what they know is drawn from history and data from old mines like Butler’s.
“Dan Butler is really a wealth of information on those old mines,” Reid said. “He is really an expert on the whos and the whens and all the work in terms of historical stuff — very fascinating amount of information.”
The tone of excitement in his voice is palpable. Simons said he’s excited about the possibilities. North Carolina could have 40 years worth of power literally in the dirt. Simons, Reid, Butler and many others are wondering if the Old North State will once more — after all these years — be sitting on a gold mine.
Contact John Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.