Dashed Hopes and Dry Holes

The history of oil drilling off the East Coast and in North Carolina has been one of dashed hopes and dry holes.

Ten oil and gas lease sales have been held in the Atlantic between 1976 and 1983, according to federal records, and 51 wells have been drilled along the continental shelf. Five were deepwater test wells commissioned by the federal government, and the rest were drilled by oil companies. Almost all were dry holes.

The exceptions were five wells off New Jersey that showed some evidence of natural gas, but they were all abandoned because the companies didn’t think the wells would be commercially viable with the technology then in use.

Currently there are no active oil and natural gas leases in the Atlantic.

The track record on land has been even worse in North Carolina. Since 1925, 129 oil or natural gas wells were drilled in the state. All but 13 were plugged as dry holes, and no commercial quantities of oil or natural gas were found in any of them.

In Eastern North Carolina, Esso dug two tests near Cape Hatteras soon after World War II. Both were dry and abandoned. A well in Camden County in 1952 went down 6,500 feet before some natural gas was detected. It, too, was plugged and abandoned. About 86 wells were drilled in and near Albemarle and Pamlico sounds. All were dry.

About the Author

Frank Tursi

The author of three books and a 30-year newspaper veteran, Frank Tursi is the founding editor of "Coastal Review Online." He retired in 2016. Before joining the federation in 2002, Frank was the senior environmental reporter in North Carolina. His writing has won numerous state and national awards. An avid fisherman and model boat builder, he lives in Swansboro with his wife, Doris, where Frank is a town commissioner.