According to the USGS, “as natural gas demand increases in the United States, gas exploration across North America is increasingly focused on “unconventional” reservoirs, including shales.” Why natural gas?
It is a domestic energy source, it releases 1/2 the CO2 emissions compared to burning coal, and it does not contain mercury.
This image, made available from the North Carolina Geological Survey shows the approximate location of gas bearing shale in NC. Gas bearing shale such as that of the Marcellus shale in PA has been in the headlines recently because of a controversial type of natural gas exploration that uses a drilling method called horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. This technology requires the use of chemicals, sand and large amounts of water to release natural gas from rock and thus could impact groundwater supplies. The EPA is conducting a congressionally mandated hydraulic fracturing study that will look at the potential adverse impact of the practice on drinking water and public health.
Although the Deep River Basin around Sanford has been determined to be a “significant exploration prospect,” at this time current policy does not support this technology in the state. However, the USGS is reviewing a site feasibility study.
Discussing the Deep River Basin and the potential for fracking would enable you to address both geology and fossil energy with your students while also exposing them to the critical thinking required when addressing a controversial issue. Below are some additional resources:
Presentation (pdf) about the Shale Gas Potential of the Deep River Basin by Jeffrey C. Reid and Kenneth B. Taylor, North Carolina Geological Survey (12.11.09)
Unconventional Natural Gas from Organic Shales in North Carolina?, Geology.com, 5.2009
Shale Gas Drilling: Pros and Cons ,60 Minutes excerpt, 11.14.10 (13 minutes)
Hydraulic Fracturing in the Spotlight, NY Times, 12.1.10
2010 Film: Gasland