Old oil test well at Hatteras
lighthouse draws state's attention
By KIRK ROSS
Coastal Review Online
samples from a decades old oil test well near the Cape Hatteras
Lighthouse that was abandoned as a dry hole in 1946 will get another
look as part of the state’s effort to expand oil and gas
exploration, state officials say.
with the N.C.
Department of Environment and Natural Resources
said last week that samples from the test well, one of several
drilled in a search for oil on the coast from 1920s to the 1950s,
show enough of a presence of oil to warrant further investigation.
the well near the lighthouse is part of a larger, statewide
assessment by DENR of the potential for oil and natural gas
exploration after the N.C. General Assembly passed an energy
budgeted $550,000 over two years for testing at potential sites
throughout much of the state. DENR’s plan centers on expanded
testing in Piedmont and mountains counties that have been identified
as having the highest potential for the hydraulic fracturing, or
fracking, for natural gas.
assessment plan also included testing in several other areas of the
state, from rock fragments in the western mountains to the rift basin
in Pasquotank, Camden and Bertie counties in the northeast coastal
the bill passed, the prospect of expanding testing for oil and
natural gas has drawn opposition, especially in mountain counties
where western legislators in both parties have called for a halt to
the tests and for DENR to concentrate on areas already identified as
year, after first announcing that they would move ahead with the full
program of statewide testing once the budget was in place, DENR
officials have scaled back the plans, eliminating the tests in the
western mountains and the three coastal counties.
coast, the only project still on the list is Hatteras Light Well No.
1 that was drilled seven decades ago. Jamie Kritzer, a DENR
spokesman, said driving the project, which is being led by the N.C.
are results from work done over the past two years by researchers
and Texas A&M University on a similar coastal well drilled in
Pamlico Sound in 1947.
we found is an indication of the presence of oil in that well,” he
said. “Based on that and the technical improvements since 1946, we
opted to go ahead and study [the Hatteras] well.”
said the department plans to issue a request for proposals this fall
after the new state budget is certified. DENR has budgeted $21,000
for the project, with $7,000 coming from the state Geological Survey
budget and the rest from federal grants from the U.S. Geological
Survey and the Bureau
of Ocean Energy Management.
are no plans for further exploration at the well site itself, Kritzer
said. The original core sample will be analyzed using modern
techniques to determine if oil or natural gas exists at the well
site, he said. The new analysis could also provide clues to what
resources might exist offshore.
examination, which could take up to two years, will become part of a
larger assessment for the legislature on the potential hydrocarbons
resources statewide, Kritzer explained. He said it will be up to the
legislature and other state policy makers to decide how to proceed
certain use for the information, particularly if it indicates the
presence of oil, is in the state’s ongoing effort to encourage
legislative memo outlining the rationale for each of the regional
assessments for oil and gas potential said the Hatteras well study
“has direct bearing on the potential for offshore hydrocarbon
exploration and potential hydrocarbon accumulations in state and
History of a Deep Well
Oil Company of New Jersey
drilled the Hatteras Light Well No. 1 to a depth of roughly 10,000
feet in an attempt to map the petroleum potential of the region. A
1946 photograph shows the well assembly located in the dunes just
south of the emblematic lighthouse.
Oil, which used the brand name Esso, in 1973 renamed itself the Exxon
Corporation. That company merged with Mobil Oil in 1999 to become the
well was much deeper than previous wildcat attempts, cutting through
sand, shell gravel, clays, limestone and shale, revealing a rich
fossil history that would later be used by researchers of
pre-historic coastal flora and fauna.
the well testing ended, some of the core samples from the Hatteras
Light well were shipped to the N.C. Geological Survey in Raleigh for
storage. In the January 1950 edition
of the Bulletin
of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists,
Walter Spangler, describes the Hatteras Light Well No. 1 as the
“deepest well drilled to date along the Atlantic Coastal Plain from
Main to Florida.”
writes that the well was 1,696 feet southwest of the former location
of the lighthouse, which was moved to higher ground in 1999. It was
started on Dec. 1, 1945, and abandoned as a dry hole on July 19,
1946. Afterward, samples were distributed to other oil industry and
later and using the same equipment, Standard drilled another well in
a section of Pamlico Sound described by Spangler as “11 miles south
of Wanchese and 3 1/2 miles west-northwest of Pea Island Coast Guard
Pamlico project began on Jan. 7, 1947, and was abandoned on March 13,
1947. Drilled to a depth of 6,410 feet, it too was considered a dry
hole. After the tests, according to Spangler, “the company
abandoned all activity along the Atlantic Coastal Plain.”
Data With New Eyes
Taylor, the state geologist, said Standard’s strategy for the two
East Coast wells was to “find the biggest pile of sand they could”
and drill down into it.
search for oil and gas potential is quite a bit different, he said.
said his goal is to provide the clearest picture of what the samples
from the well’s “mud log” indicate.
the tests would be similar to those performed at Texas A&M on the
Pamlico Sound well samples. Rocks in the samples are dissolved in
solvent, the solvent removed, and the material then goes through a
battery of tests for composition. Researchers will be looking for
presence of oil, methane and other chemicals present when petroleum
those chemicals are found and how deep below the surface should
provide another key to understanding the fossil fuel resources
offshore, Taylor said, such as how the oil got there and where it
might have migrated.
said he understands that the study could raise concerns given the
long running controversy over offshore oil and gas development. But
he stressed that as state geologist, he’s charged with accurately
detailing the state’s mineral resources.
we’re looking for is the presence of oil,” he said, “not
whether there’s enough for production, but presence.”
the Hatteras well study will provide another important data point in
the study of the state’s offshore potential. That, he said, could
prevent “bad assumptions” on the part of policy makers. Right
now, Taylor said, anyone can put any number they want on the
potential of offshore resources.
trying to develop reliable information,” he said.
(This story is provided courtesy of Coastal Review Online, the
coastal news and features service of the N.C. Coastal Federation. You
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