GONE AND BACK AGAIN: OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT IN NORTH CAROLINA, 1925 TO 2010
Prior to the 1920’s, the most common method of exploration was prospecting in areas that contained oil seeps, and few oil companies utilized knowledge from the local or regional geology for exploration. By the mid 1930’s, geological and topographical mapping, stratigraphic correlation, and research on source materials as well as the use of gravimeters, magnetometers and sounding methods helped aid exploration in potentially hydrocarbon-bearing sedimentary rocks in the Coastal Plain.
However, the next exploratory well in North Carolina was not developed until 1945 and drilling was directed in the Coastal Plain. In the 1970’s, 2-D and 3-D seismic imaging was introduced and these geophysical methods allowed for exploration at greater depths. 41 of the 120 exploratory wells drilled in the Coastal Plain were developed during this decade.
In 1974, V.R. Groce No. 1 became the first exploratory well drilled in the Piedmont Triassic Basins in Lee County, for Chevron Oil Company. Previous oil and gas exploration in the Piedmont region had been limited because of the complex geology, poor potential source material, and extensive faulting. International politics and the social and economic effects of the Oil Embargo of 1973 caused a brief increase in exploration from 1970 to 1974. Coupled with the recession and the rise alarming concerns for the environment, by the end of the 1970’s oil and gas exploration began to decline.
Between 1982 and 1998, further exploration continued in the Triassic Basins in Lee County where the organic-rich shale beds of the Cumnock Formation showed the potential to produce coal bed methane. Amvest Oil and Gas Inc. completed drilling the last exploratory well (Butler No. 3) on May 9, 1998.
Although state law currently prohibits the development of oil and gas by the use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing methods, new resource assessments in 2009 indicate natural gas potential in Lee and Chatham counties. Based on a compilation of data sets, new techniques and new interpretations on the Triassic Basin, an old industry may arise once again in the North Carolina Piedmont.