Interest builds for natural gas

Published 1:03 am Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Whether natural gas would be a viable energy source in North Carolina is a complicated issue, according to one state official.

In a recent interview, Jim Simons, a director and geologist with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, outlined where natural gas is expected to be located in North Carolina.

“There have been some figures thrown out even by legislators. We keep getting pressed to try and say something. There have been no wells drilled since 1998. Those were for coal and methane gas and not for shell gas,” Simons said. “We have put a lot of data together and done chemical analysis from the wells that were drilled. We are basing it on what they have done in other sites like in Pennsylvania. Very conservatively, we said, there could be anywhere from a few billion cubic feet to a few trillion cubic feet. Once it gets in the one trillion range, it gets to be commercially viable.”

Simmons said he and others put together information about natural gas and sent it to the United States Geological Survey, which has a special assessment team that can review the data and give an official estimate based on this data.

Simons also said that he and his group were slated to meet with USGS in the middle of July in Denver.

However, USGS could take several months to release a statement.

One area of interest concerning natural gas formations in North Carolina is the Mezoic Basin. This area includes Lee, Moore and Chatham counties.

Simons said his group is concentrating on shell gas and the organic shell layers of the Mezoic Basin. He said there could be other natural gas layers in North Carolina.

There is some interest in offshore oil and gas exploration beyond North Carolina’s jurisdiction of offshore waters. The gas located there is in sedimentary rocks.

Simons said Whitmore Exploration Company and Old North State Energy Company are business entities interested in natural-gas exploration in North Carolina. However, there is a permitting process involved before actual work can begin.

Whether natural gas will be have a positive or negative effect on North Carolina’s economy is uncertain, Simons said.

“It has been hailed as the greatest thing since sliced bread, and it’s been called other things. But I don’t know. We do not think North Carolina is going to be a major international player in natural gas. It’s not the next north slope of Alaska,” he said. “We could have enough to make a substantial financial impact, however. North Carolina has thousands of acres of potential land; other states have thousands of miles of potential land. We are not going to be the next Texas, at least not right now.”