“We may find something, we may not, but at least we will know what is here.”
Patterson Exploration Services Chief Geologist Russ Patterson said that is the goal for the core sample drilling in Walnut Cove that began Monday afternoon.
Drilling was not scheduled to begin until Friday, but Patterson said his company had finished early at other core sample drilling sites commissioned by the North Carolina Geological Society and had decided to start in Walnut Cove to make sure they had some wiggle room in case anything went wrong during the drilling process.
“We figured with the short fuse we had on this thing, the earlier we start, if we have some type of problem like the rig breaks or blows an engine, then we would still be able to finish it by the 30th,” he said.
Patterson said the drilling is expected to take between 10 and 14 days, noting that drilling operations will run from from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. or 7 p.m. everyday, including weekend days.
“We use a diamond bit,” he said. “We will run that down until it gets good and hard and then we will pull it out, cement it in and install a shut of valve. That way, if we do hit something down there like gas and it tries to come out then we have control over it. That is probably not going to happen, but we will have a shut off just in case it does.”
During the drilling process the company will be removing core samples, marking the depth they were obtained from and placing them in white boxes to deliver to the state for evaluation.
The drilling operation will use water from the Town Fork Creek, but Patterson said no fracking chemicals would be added to it during the drilling process.
“We will be using drilling mud during the process, but it is chemically inert,” he said, noting that the main additive in the mud is called bentonite, an absorbent aluminium phyllosilicate, impure clay consisting mostly of montmorillonite. “We are not going to frack anything. We are not using any chemical additives. What we are doing here will be a little cleaner than the average water well drilling would be.”
Waste water from the drilling will be filtered through hay to remove any leftover rock debris and returned to the creek.
Patterson said the drilling would create some noise at the site, but that the noise would likely not be heard by residents of the Walnut Tree community where the drilling is happening.
Three to four employees of Patterson Exploration Services will be on the site during drilling operations, as will several employees of the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Patterson said the drill site would also be patrolled by the Stokes County Sheriff’s Department at night.
He said he did not mind if people wanted to come watch the drilling operation but cautioned that visitors to the site needed to stay behind the caution tape to avoid any injuries.
“If there is a group of demonstrators or anyone wants to talk to us I will meet them at the caution tape and answer their questions,” he said. “We are not here to cause trouble, we are just here to do the job we were hired to do. I don’t mind you coming to take pictures or to look, but we need to make sure the road is not blocked in case we need to get out or somebody gets hurt and we need to have someone come in.”
The drilling is intended to determine the down dip continuity and thickness of the Walnut Cove Formation, an organic based source rock in the Dan River Basin. The sample will not evaluate the Cow Branch Formation.
According to a request for proposals (RFP) sent out by DENR, the study is part of the North Carolina Geological Society’s natural gas study of rift basins in North Carolina.
After the core sample is obtained the hole shall be closed in accordance with state law. According to the RFP the Town Fork River may be used as a water source for drilling. The RFP notes that small concentrations of natural gas may be encountered during the drilling, but adds that no gas was encountered in previous, smaller samples taken in 1981.
DENR spokesman Jamie Kritzer said the project will cost the state $91,501.50 to obtain the core sample, but that there is not currently any funding to evaluate the samples obtained.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.