Point of View

Fracking? NC's geology doesn't support it

June 9, 2014 

The N.C. General Assembly is atwitch over fracking in the state. Some legislators claim that North Carolina will lose money by not backing fracking the way that other states do. They seem to think that companies will bring equipment and experts to explore for oil and gas all over the state.

They have gone so far as to pass Senate Bill 786 or the “Energy Modernization Act,” which includes: Section 22. (a) The Department of Commerce, in consultation with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the North Carolina Ports Authority, and the Department of Administration, shall study the desirability and feasibility of siting, constructing, and operating a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal in North Carolina.

So, not only do we expect to produce gas for local consumption. We will produce enough for export.

The so-called environmentalists are just as silly. They give the impression that fracking will contaminate our water supplies throughout North Carolina.

Both the pro-fracking and the anti-fracking people ignore the geology of North Carolina. Petroleum (oil and gas) experts, however, do not ignore it.

The Energy Information Agency of the U.S government shows large areas that fracking opens to oil and gas production. The largest is the Marcellus-Utica complex of western New York, western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and West Virginia. Numerous other areas are scattered to the west. None of them is east of the southern Appalachians, and the EIA shows nothing in North Carolina,

The only possible locations of oil and gas accumulation in North Carolina are rift basins formed about 200 million years ago when North America separated from West Africa. One of these basins is the Deep River, which is subdivided into three sub basins. The area of particular interest to us is the Sanford sub basin in Chatham and Lee counties. It contained small coal mines, of which the best known was the Egypt mine, which exploded in 1925.

The cause of the explosion is uncertain, but it is probably related to the accumulation of natural gas in the mine. The coal in the mine is part of a sequence of sediments rich in organic material (coal, oil, gas). The gas tended to accumulate in the mine and would have been very explosive.

So there may be some frackable gas in the Sanford sub basin – optimistic estimates suggest a 40-year supply – but there is none in the rest of the state. Certainly none in the hard rocks of the Piedmont and Appalachians. And none in the sediments that underlie the coastal plain, which are too young to generate oil and gas.

Also the American Association of Petroleum Geologists shows no interest in North Carolina. The AAPG is now combining with local organizations to hold educational meetings on fracking; the two organized thus far are in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. And no major oil companies have shown an interest in the Sanford sub basin or anywhere else in the state.

There is so little fracking to be done in North Carolina that we can all forget about it. This includes people who think that fracking will bring us oil and gas riches and people who think that fracking will ruin our water supply.

Let’s forget about fracking, accept the fact that North Carolina must import energy and think of more ways to pay for those imports.

John J.W. Rogers is a distinguished professor of geology emeritus at UNC-Chapel Hill.

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