Cumberland, Hoke sites tested for natural gas potential
Posted May 27, 2015
Raeford, N.C. — Crews began taking samples Wednesday to determine whether the ground under Cumberland and Hoke counties could be prime territory for natural gas drilling.
State environmental regulators last week issued the first contracts to test sites in North Carolina for oil and gas resources ahead of any potential drilling. Sanford-based Patterson Exploration Services is being paid $145,000 to pull 4-inch-diameter cores from several locations in the two counties, as well as in Scotland and Stokes counties.
All of the tests will be conducted on public land, and Patterson Exploration was digging Wednesday at a state Department of Transportation maintenance facility in Raeford. The 30-foot-long core samples are being pulled from 240 to 400 feet underground and will be sent to a laboratory for analysis.
"There could be something here that's worthwhile and economical, and there's a few things that drive this," said Patterson Exploration owner Russ Patterson. "These things are science holes. We're doing it for the science to see what's there so we can say it's here or it's not here."
The exploration contracts target two geological formations – the Dan River and the Cumberland-Marlboro basins – in an attempt to estimate how much oil and natural gas might be trapped in the ground below.
State lawmakers allocated the funding for test drilling several years ago in an attempt to jumpstart hydraulic fracturing drilling, or "fracking," in the state.
Fracking extracts natural gas through horizontal drilling and then breaking apart shale deposits with a high-powered injection of water laced with grit and chemicals to release gas trapped in the rock.
Debate over the practice in North Carolina has raged for five years, with environmental groups arguing for better drinking water regulations to protect residents from chemical contamination by the fracking slurry.
State lawmakers last year approved legislation that would allow energy companies to begin applying for fracking permits in March, but none has been issued to date. Last week, a judge put a hold on any permits in process until the state Supreme Court sorts out a dispute over appointments to the Mining and Energy Commission, which wrote the rules for fracking in the state.
Patterson Exploration will continue test drilling in Hoke County for the next two to five days. After that, crews will move to one site in Cumberland County and two in Scotland County.
If there is no sign in the samples of the potential for underground oil or natural gas, Patterson said his crews will pour cement down the holes to plug them.
Donald Porter, Hoke County's director of economic development, said that, even with the controversy over fracking, it's worth a look to see if there's natural gas under Raeford.
"We have very smart local elected officials. Our citizens are smart," Porter said. "Once the data is in, they'll explore everything that's presented, and they'll make those decisions."