MANDEVILLE -- "There's a lot of history here for the oil and gas industry," said Helis Oil Spokesman Greg Beuerman.
By the end of the month, Helis will be added to St. Tammany's drilling history book, with hopes of eventually starting a new chapter on successfully fracking the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale from there.
"When we first talked two years ago, we were excited," said Project Manager Mike Barham, "We're still excited about it to see if we've got anything. If we've got oil in St. Tammany Parish."
Barham said a drilling rig will arrive on the site, off of Highway 1088 in Mandeville, next week. The plan is to complete an exploratory vertical well and remove the rig before school starts in early August down the road at Lakeshore High.
The point of the digging is to determine if there's anything in the rock formation that the company can later reach by fracturing the rock, also known as fracking.
"It'll be a four-inch round rock of the whole formation. It'll take months to evaluate: what are the rock mechanics?; what are the berms?; what are the oil saturations?" Barham said.
In the meantime, a staunch opponent, the Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany group, wants the parish to order a cease and desist on the activity while the court case, fighting for zoning authority, is pending State Supreme Court consideration.
"On the one hand, you're saying let them go forward, which could hurt the case in the Supreme Court," said CCST President Rick Franzo. "On the other hand, you're spending all this money trying to defend your zoning laws. This is a big issue. This is a constitutional issue."
The parish said it has no legal right to hold up the work unless the Supreme Court revives the case.
"They've already won twice, and we're hoping that the Supreme Court does pick up the case, but if it doesn't we'll just have to cross that bridge when we get to it," said Parish Spokesman Ronnie Simpson.
For Helis, it's a countdown to the beginning of new possibilities. For others, it's the beginning of a rocky road with no clear end in sight.
If the testing results show there's oil, the company will have to start the permitting process again in order to begin the fracking phase. If not, Helis will close the hole in accordance with state regulations.
Late Monday afternoon, the Concerned Citizens group confirmed it is considering filing a restraining order to halt next week's kickoff.
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