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Geologist explains the potential of natural gas deposits under Chatham

Posted Thursday, August 19, 2010

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Pittsboro, NC - Jeffrey C. Reid, senior geologist for the NC Geological Survey, provided an overview of the shale natural gas deposits that may be located under parts of Chatham County during the August 16 meeting of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners. Reid also noted potential environmental impacts of drilling for the gas.

They discussed that the Deep River shale deposit is a somewhat narrow strip in a rift about 150 miles long, starting north of Raleigh and heading southwest to Anson and Montgomery counties along the South Carolina border.

A major section may run through an estimated 700 acres of Chatham County along the Lee County line, but Reid said that this is probably an underestimate. They have not tested all the areas, so they can’t confirm the acreage.

Reid said that the large shale gas deposit in the Deep River Basin remained fairly undiscovered until a 2008 report by the North Carolina Geologic Survey. Energy production companies previously were not as interested in the deeper shale deposits, but newer technologies made it easier for them to extract natural gas from these deposits.

While natural gas is a cleaner form of energy, the drilling methods used to extract the gas from the shale come with environmental risks.

One extraction method is hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," which injects water and chemicals underground at high pressure to crack open shale. Environmental concerns of fracking include potential contamination of groundwater, soil erosion and depletion of water supplies. Fracking is currently is illegal in North Carolina. Another technology used is horizontal drilling, also is not currently allowed under state law.

James Simmons, director of Land Resources for the NC Geological Survey, said that some of the chemicals used in fracking are potentially toxic. Drilling companies are increasingly under pressure across the nation to reveal the type and amount of chemicals they use.

The state would have major control over permitting and fees, but the county could have a role in terms of zoning and soil erosion and sedimentation control regulations. Reid noted that the state requirements related to permits and related fees for wells and drilling are based on a 1945 statute and are outdated.

The News and Observer (Raleigh) reported on June 26, 2010 that energy companies have been obtaining mineral rights leases in Lee County, but did not report on any leases with Chatham County landowners. In the article, Tom Feitshans, an extension specialist at N.C. State University's agricultural economics department, cautioned landowners to be careful with contracts for mineral rights, both in terms of potential income and liability issues.

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