SANFORD-- Five months after lawmakers passed a law permitting fracking in North Carolina, state leaders and industry experts are taking steps to set the state up for success. They want to get commitments from gas and oil companies now, so they can begin to drill once the legislators approve the final regulations.
“That's money screaming at you right there,” marveled Lee County Commissioner Jim Womack describing the shrill scream of natural gas coming out of the state's only active well located in the center of the state in Sanford. Womack feels the well demonstrates potential.
"We think we've got valuable gas here in Lee County that would be very commercially viable,” said Womack describing the region which is expected to become the epicenter for fracking once it begins in the state.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates there's enough shale in the Deep River Basin to meet the state's natural gas demand for at least five years. Womack , who also leads the state's Mining and Energy Commission, said the state has not gotten any commitments from companies yet. He wants to help the state capitalize on the region's resources by pulling in companies who could turn Lee County into one of the hottest fracking players in the country.
"If we can get them interested and ready to go then once the legislature gives the green light than we don't have a protracted delay."
Womack's working with experts like geologists Russ Patterson to capture data to peek companies interest. While the Tar Heel State does not have close to the acreage of shale gas like Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Patterson believes there's a benefit to drilling here.
"You can have more production because you've got a thicker sequence," described Patterson, the chief geologist for Patterson Exploration Services
Patterson claims Sanford's well illustrates drilling for natural gas will not harm the environment.
"They brought all those big bad trucks in here and pumpers and they used all that water and all that stuff and they fracked this well and it didn't hurt nothing."
Womack hopes concrete data like that will urge companies to conduct testing of their own. Once commitments role in, Womack believes the state could experience economic success from the industry.
"We'll bring our tax rates down, we'll bring our unemployment down to the point that everyone who wants a job will have one."
By October 2014, the Mining and Energy Commission will develop the regulations that will guide oil and gas exploration and development activities in the state.
On Wednesday, Dec. 12, News 14 Carolina will continue examining natural gas exploration and it's impact on the state by examining how the commission's planning to protect water and air quality. News 14 Carolina will also show you why some environmentalists, home and landowners remain concerned the rules won't provide enough safeguards.