The state has retreated from its plan to collect rock samples this year in Jackson and the other far-western counties to test for indications of shale gas deposits.
The presence of such deposits could have led to fracking in the region.
“We are focused on exploring and developing the basins with a likelihood of finding shale gas,” wrote Donald van der Vaan, chief deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, in an Aug. 21 memorandum obtained by The Herald.
All sampling and analyses for shale gas during fiscal year 2014-2015 will be focused downstate: on the Deep River, Dan River and proposed Cumberland-Marlboro basins, according to the memorandum, written to Timothy Dale, fiscal analyst for the Natural and Economic Resources team of the General Assembly. Plans to test in Camden, Pasquotank and Bertie counties have fallen by the wayside, too, according to DENR’s Bridget Munger.
The hunt for shale gas in WNC lacked political support from the majority party: state Sen. Jim Davis, R-Macon, who co-sponsored the bill that could bring fracking to North Carolina by the spring of 2015, told The Herald last month that he views such a quest as a waste of taxpayer money. N.C. House Rep. Nathan Ramsey, R-Buncombe County, said the same. Ramsey actively tried during the legislative session to stop the state Geological Survey from collecting rocks in the seven westernmost counties.
Non-state affiliated geologists have expressed pessimism about shale gas existing in the mountains; and, if it did, about whether a private company actually could tap it profitably. There have been some geologic studies that indicated the requisite organic –rich rocks might underlie parts of the Blue Ridge, but if so, getting to them would require substantial drilling.
Anti-fracking foes hold that fracking could contaminate drinking-water supplies. Supporters counter the combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling is safe when done properly. Companies inject, at high pressure, a cocktail of chemicals and water into rock, shattering it. This allows them to extract natural gas through the fractures.
Munger said budget constraints also played a part in the state’s decision to not test here, at least for now.
A hearing to take public comment on fracking is scheduled at Western Carolina University on Friday, Sept. 12. As of press time Wednesday, it was not clear whether the decision not to test will impact that hearing.