That said, the concern is actually misplaced. A single test drilling well is highly unlikely to threaten the community’s fabled water supply of which nobody actually has ever been able to identify the source despite considerable efforts. The well is some miles away and unlikely to do damage. Such wells have pipe casings all the way down and this one is set to keep looking to a depth of 14,000 feet — that is more than 2½ miles, or far below where water that bubbles to the surface comes from.
If the wildcatters should hit a “gusher” in the lingo of the oil/gas fields, that is another matter ... and considerable gas reserves have already been found in Alabama’s portion of the same geological structure.
Should that be the case the holes to tap into the bounty will start popping up all over the place, bringing temporary transient work crews in great numbers who, when done and having also laced the countryside with collection pipes, will depart leaving cattle to graze on the pastures around the wellheads ... and lucky subsurface rights holders to count dollars pouring into their bank accounts while sharing some with the surface-rights holders atop which their permanent equipment must rest.
If that becomes the case, Cave Spring (and/or Floyd County) will have about as much chance of stopping what happens next as a human standing on the tracks has of derailing a runaway freight train.
SINCE GEORGIA has zero — absolutely nothing — by way of oil or gas production at present, the economic juggernaut that would then result is unknown to its citizens. Those who grew up in the “oil patch” of the Southwest, as did the writer, know what comes next.
Put it this way: If Cave Spring and vicinity have invisible gold beneath the soil, then preserving the purity of water will concern very few property owners — many of whom, whether they know it or not, probably long ago sold subsurface mineral rights — or the previous owner did — no matter what is found, be it gold, oil, gas, coal, kaolin or whatever. Mineral rights once sold are a property right unto themselves, not transferred to later purchasers of homesteads or back fortys.
If there is “gold” down there somewhere, free for the taking after drilling expenses, anybody who owns it will start picking it up — and the United States is actually the only country in the world that allows citizens to own what is under their property or somebody else’s ... and sell it separately from what is on the surface.
It is that simple, that predictable.
DOING the drilling is Forestar, the Texas-based real-estate/development giant left standing alone after a very familiar name to Floyd Countians, Temple-Inland, sold off its timber/paper-making operations. Forestar basically holds the mineral rights to about every inch of southwestern Floyd County … and a lot more around here. And a lot of surface rights, too. Other big speculative outfits hold much of the rest.
Nor has the potential of gas (or even oil) beneath Floyd County never been known. Just a couple of years ago, agents for some unknown speculator were going door-to-door in the Gore Valley seeking to buy up subsurface mineral rights they did not already hold.
Indeed, at roughly the same place in the big bend of the Coosa River where Forestar plans to drill beginning in May, more than a century ago a wildcat rig (built of wood, not steel) looked for oil as some had bubbled to the surface. Clearly, no commercial pool was found else the landscape locally would already be far different. However, where there is oil there usually is gas — originally in the oil patch considered a waste product and actually burned off rather than collected, to minimize danger of “blowouts.”
Now, advances in drilling technology and new profit opportunities for natural gas make looking for the stuff financially attractive. The new test well may cost a few hundred thousand dollars. If it “hits,” the free product brought to the surface might be worth many, many millions somewhere down the line, even though natural gas is currently plentiful and cheap in this country. Not so some years from now, or even today in energy-starved nations where it can be shipped in liquefied form. This is sort of like buying a $2 lottery ticket for a chance at the jackpot, which lots of people already do.
THIS AREA, which used to be beneath an ocean onto whose floor sank dead plant/fish/dinosaur life that over time form energy sources, has a difficult-to-access layer known as Chattanooga black shale long known to be a “last resort” fuel source, sort of similar to the tar-sands extraction now raging in Canada.
Because of earthquakes, volcanic activity and such that eventually raised the land on which we now reside, there is a complicated folding of other rocks below — mostly Conasauga limestone, Red Mountain sandstone and Armuchee chert. The oil/gas-bearing layer is usually buried beneath another, though it surfaces here and there (such as at Taylor’s Ridge).
But that’s enough geology, which there has been little reason to teach much of in these parts until now.
There is now no natural-gas production in Georgia and very little nearby ... so far. Where is the product coming from? It is not going to be shipped in without new pipelines longer than interstates.
Well, not only the Alabama/Georgia/Tennessee black shale formation (about 20 miles long and running for 100 miles) is considered potentially viable but so, according to Jim Kennedy, the state’s geologist, are the shale gas fields of the Mesozoic Basin covering 60 percent of the Coastal Plain in South Georgia.
As many brows around Cave Spring furrow further upon reading this, back to the water question.
YES, IT IS possible, although maybe not probable, that the fabled spring could be negatively impacted by a major gas field development whether or not “fracking” — the hydraulic fracturing of rock layers — is involved.
Should the cave’s spring start tasting/smelling bad, the oil/gas outfits will likely be glad to replace every drop by sinking a big pipe into Brushy Branch and pumping/cleansing/purifying those waters to replace the entire Cave Spring system supply at absolutely no cost. To them, that’s an incidental cost of doing business.
And, if it becomes a question of losing water that tastes like a million bucks and adding an actual million bucks a year to the incomes of many neighbors ... well, human nature and avarice make the outcome quite predictable.
Right now, the best hope for “stopping this” is that this test well, and others that may well follow, turn out to be, in oil-patch terminology, dry.