by Billy Ball
Not 40 years. Not 30 years. Not even 10 years.
Six years: That’s how long natural gas resources in the Deep River Basin would meet the state’s demand, according to a much-awaited U.S. Geological Survey assessment of gas resources released Tuesday.
That amount is far short of leaders’ predictions that the state’s supply of shale-trapped natural gas could power the state for four decades, a key point in pro-fracking lawmakers’ bid to legalize the controversial drilling technique.
The USGS survey arrived less than a day before the state Senate voted Wednesday afternoon to approve Senate Bill 820, a GOP-backed measure that would allow fracking in North Carolina after officials build a regulatory structure in the next two years.
The survey pegged the Deep River Basin with average undiscovered stores of 1,660 billion cubic feet of gas and 83 million barrels of natural gas liquids, enough to meet North Carolina’s demand for 5.6 years, Assistant State Geologist Kenneth Taylor said in a news release.
The supply estimate might be due for another downsizing, based on an N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources report released this spring.
The report noted only about 20 percent of all discovered and undiscovered gas can be recovered using today’s technology, meaning that estimated supply may only be enough to meet state demand for little more than a year, said Hope Taylor, executive director of Clean Water for NC, which has long opposed fracking.
Kenneth Taylor could not be reached by the Indy Wednesday to say whether his estimate accounts for unrecoverable gas.
Pro-fracking lawmakers like Sen. Bob Rucho, a Republican from Mecklenburg County, have argued the drilling would result in a windfall of jobs and commerce into the state’s lagging economy over the next 50 years, even as state geologists dialed back their estimates of the gas supply in recent weeks.
Skeptics, meanwhile, pointed out widespread reports of environmental damage caused by fracking operations in other states.
Nevertheless, a Senate commerce committee approved a Rucho-authored bill Tuesday and a full Senate vote came a day later, leaving the measure to a vote in the state House of Representatives in the coming days.
Hope Taylor said lawmakers should stall the Rucho bill in light of the USGS survey.
“I think it shows how deeply absurd this whole effort has been, that a lot of good time and effort has been wasted,” Hope Taylor said. “We need to stop it before any more time and effort is wasted developing a regulatory program that has the potential to cost a lot of money to set up.”
The USGS survey also estimated the Dan River and Danville basin, which includes a small portion of northwest North Carolina as well as parts of southern Virginia, includes average undiscovered resources of 49 billion cubic feet of gas. Kenneth Taylor said that basin’s store would likely serve the state’s natural gas demand for roughly two months.