Western North Carolina is no longer on State Geologist Ken Taylor’s schedule for this fall’s tour de hydrocarbons in North Carolina. Taylor had planned to come to WNC in September to collect rock samples from road rights-of-way to test their carbon content. That initial test would have determined whether there was any point in pursuing shale gas exploration in the region any further.
“The priorities outlined by the General Assembly and outlined in the budget have directed us to look at the basins in the central portion of the state where we’ve already been conducting analyses and testing,” said Jamie Kritzer, public information officer for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
In other words, the 2014-15 budget came in a little tighter than expected, so studies will focus on the Dan River, Deep River and Cumberland-Marlboro basins, which are thought to have the greatest potential of any area in the state. Testing was also cancelled for three eastern N.C. counties: Bertie, Pasquotank and Camden.
However, the cancellation doesn’t mean that testing is off the table for good.
“It wasn’t that much money,” Katie Hicks, assistant director of Clean Water for North Carolina, said of the $12,000 of the entire $250,000 allotment originally budgeted for the WNC survey. “They were going to pick up some rocks. They can’t do that because of budget constraints. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t come back.”
Kritzer confirmed that supposition, maintaining that the decision was based on budgetary constraints and priorities for exploration, not on the anti-fracking groups and municipal resolutions springing up across WNC.
“It just came out of the actions of the General Assembly and the actions of the budget that was passed is my understanding,” he said. “I’m not sure whether the other issues played a role.”
The study’s cancellation will not affect the public hearing on the oil and gas rules, still scheduled for Sept. 12 at Western Carolina University’s Ramsey Center.
— By Holly Kays