Last week, Mitch Gillespie, an assistant secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, told a legislative environmental committee that his agency planned to study potential natural gas deposits in Western North Carolina. But a DENR spokesman now tells Carolina Public Press that no funds had been appropriated to conduct such a study.
DENR public information officer Jamie Kritzer on Wednesday identified the location of the potential study, which had not been previously disclosed. It would include parts of North Carolina’s seven westernmost counties: Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain.
“Based on rock sampling and geologic mapping conducted by the N.C. Geological Survey during the past three decades, DENR has determined that geologic formations in an area known as the Precambrian rift basin in Western North Carolina have the potential to contain natural gas,” Kritzer said.
In response to recent state legislation, DENR is scouting locations that would be conducive to fracking, a controversial method of extracting natural gas using pressurized water and chemicals.
“The agency is still a long way from determining whether this region contains oil and natural gas resources and whether those resources are abundant enough to make energy exploration feasible,” Kritzer added. “As part of a long-range plan, the department has determined rock sampling and additional research is necessary in this region to determine whether the potential organic rich formation contain oil or natural gas.”
At an Environmental Review Commission hearing Nov. 13, Gillespie said that DENR had dedicated $11,725 of already appropriated state funds to conduct a study in WNC.
“If you look there in Western North Carolina, there’s a possible (shale gas) basin out there,” he said. “And we’re going to go out there … to see what the rock looks like, and actually pick up some rocks.”
Kritzer, however, gave a contradictory account of the situation.
“At this time, DENR does not have an appropriation from the General Assembly needed to conduct testing in Western North Carolina,” he said.
Gillespie has not responded to Carolina Public Press’s requests for comment.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Hendersonville Republican who sits on the Environmental Review Commission and voted against recent legislation that paves the way for fracking, said that he contacted both Gillespie and State Geologist Kenneth Taylor yesterday seeking more information.
The conversations left McGrady convinced, he said, that the chances of finding substantial natural gas deposits in WNC are practically nil.
“There doesn’t seem to be anything to this,” he said. “No one seems to view it as anything worth studying right now. This would be a wild goose chase, from what I can tell.”
More of Carolina Public Press’s reporting on fracking can be found here, including: