Helis showcases fracking site, safety plans

Ashley Rodrigue / Eyewitness News
Email: arodrigue@wwltv.com | Twitter: @ashleyrwwl

MANDEVILLE,La. -- A little yellow stake, surrounded by acres of trees near I-12 and Hwy. 1088 in Mandeville, is where Helis Oil says the center of its fracking well operation will take place, if it's given the OK.

The company took Eyewitness News on a tour of the planned well pad area Wednesday to lay out the intended look of the land, which will include a pond for fresh water used in the fracking process, storage tanks, piping and housing for workers, all surrounded by a two-foot berm.

The company says as much as 4 million gallons of clean water will be driven in to use over seven days during the actual fracking. They anticipate truck traffic to and from the site, which they already plan to adjust around school traffic at Lakeshore High, to be an average of five to six trucks a day.

The company also detailed how it is addressing concerns its operation may negatively affect the community.'

'Helis is committed to going above and beyond what we have to do, what the state requires us to do,' said Mike Barham, the project manager.

The company says it will train first responders on how to handle any issues that could come up at the well site. It also plans to test noise, soil, air and water near and far around the site, before, during and after the drilling.

The water testing, Barham said, will be done one multiple wells, both for neighborhoods and individual homes and businesses if they're given permission. But they don't expect any problems.

'We are over 9,000 feet below the base of the aquifer,' said Barham. 'Nothing but solid rock between us and the base of the aquifer.'

The company says if its project pans out as they plan, they expect for an economic boost to the area, much like the movie industry has done for the entire state of Louisiana.

'I think the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale is going to produce a resurgence of many oil field service companies around here,' said community consultant Charlotte Batson, who runs Tuscaloosa Energy Services, 'The St. Tammany Parish area, as well as the wells going up in Tangipahoa Parish, the Felicianas and Mississippi.'

Batson said she's seen numbers as high as 1,500 people at a maximum 'touch each drilling rig,' but acknowledges not all of those jobs are full-time. She also said drilling jobs can easily be turned into production jobs with extra training, which, she said, can last 30 to 40 years.

While opponents are glad to hear contingency plans are being developed, they say Helis is mostly just spreading sugar-coated selling points.

'I felt it was Christmas. I felt I just got a present wrapped up with a bow and everything is so perfect, and I believe that some of the things said in there were understated or overstated,' said Rick Franzo, president of Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany.

He also questions Helis' commitment to preserving the health, safety and environment on the community when the site chosen involves wetlands and is near a school.

While the company expects to hear a decision from the Department on Natural Resources regarding moving past the first step in the drilling process, unitization approval, the parish lawsuit filed against the state agency, in an attempt to stop the project, is moving forward.

A status conference in that case is scheduled for the end of next month and a tentative hearing date is set for October.


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