Mitt Romney recently said that he wanted to make the U.S. independent of imported energy by developing domestic sources on lands belonging to the federal government. One of those sources would be oil and natural gas from fields off the North Carolina coast.
The state owns submerged land up to 3 miles offshore and makes all decisions concerning it. Submerged land farther offshore belongs to the U.S. government.
I hope Romney isnt expecting very much oil off North Carolina. Starting in the 1980s, primarily under the presidency of Ronald Reagan, various moratoria were placed on exploration along the entire seaboard from Maine to Florida. A few wells drilled before 1980 showed minor promise for oil or gas, but they were all north or south of North Carolina.
One major problem is a geologic arch that runs east-west across North Carolina. The arch causes the Outer Banks to extend far eastward into the Atlantic and prevents thick basins of oil-bearing sediments from forming on top of the arch.
Now the U.S. Geological Survey and Energy Information Administration estimate no oil in offshore North Carolina, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management estimates a total of only 3 billion barrels of oil between Maine and Florida. Thus, we can expect little, or no, oil in offshore North Carolina.
Romney also wants to create jobs in the energy sector in North Carolina. I hope he is not planning many in production of fossil fuels. The only possible fossil fuels in North Carolina are natural gas and coal. Very minor indications of both of them are present in a lower-Mesozoic rift basin near Sanford. A small amount of gas may be present for local consumption, although even that is doubtful. Coal from the Egypt and nearby mines supplied the Confederacy during the Civil War, but the coal is of such poor quality that basically none has been mined since an explosion in 1925.
We North Carolinians import fossil fuels from several sources. Oil and its various products, such as gasoline, arrive by ship, railroad and tanker truck. Coal arrives by truck and train mostly from West Virginia and Kentucky. Natural gas is piped to the state from the Henry Hub, a gas holding facility in southern Louisiana that is the nexus of several pipelines. The Henry Hub is so important that the price of gas at the Hub is set by trading at the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX). Propane, which is physically a gas but not natural gas, is piped into North Carolina from as far away as Texas,
If we dont have any fossil fuels in North Carolina, Romneys sunny plans seem not to work. So can we ever become independent of energy sources outside the state? Yes, partly if we continue efforts we are already making.
We currently rank fifth among U.S. states in production of electricity from nuclear power, and we can increase that figure significantly. That would let us reduce the percentage of electricity generated from coal below its current 50 percent. We could also continue development of geothermal energy and biodiesel fuel synthesized from non-edible plants. We have further to go to develop wind energy adequately and to make full use of solar power.
We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are accustomed to it in North Carolina. I described the state, particularly the Piedmont, as a value-added society in a web-published book titled History and Environment of North Carolinas Piedmont. The term signifies that the state, particularly the Piedmont, is an economic powerhouse because we add value to raw materials by manufacturing and to people by creating a good quality of life.
Lets overcome our lack of fossil fuel with the same effort!
John J.W. Rogers is retired as the William R. Kenan Jr. professor of geology at UNC-Chapel Hill. He can be reached at email@example.com.