What happens next with St. Tammany fracking project?

Both the state and Army Corps of Engineers-approved permits for Helis Oil's plans for a site off of Highway 1088 allow only for a vertical well, for now.

MANDEVILLE, La. - Both the state and Army Corps of Engineers-approved permits for Helis Oil's plans for a site off of Hwy. 1088 allow only for a vertical well, for now.

The company says evidence of that work will be seen in a matter of days, starting with the road leading in.

"The first 30 to 45 days will be more or less preparatory work, pre-construction work, pre-drilling work, if you will," said Helis spokesman Greg Beuerman, "The drilling process itself will take between 30 and 45 days. That includes moving the rig on site, doing the vertical drill and moving the rig off site. So we're looking at about a 90-day process from here on out."

The 3-acre well pad will be deep in the woods, surrounded by sound buffers. Pre-drill test results from 10 nearby water wells are under analysis now, while voluntary air and noise monitors should be in place by the end of next week.

Helis says it's already started fulfilling promises it's made to go above and beyond, including training area first responders on what to do if something does go wrong at the site. A workshop was held in April where about 30 first responders attended from at least four different departments.

"There was a good deal of education on the process itself so we know pretty much what's involved," said St. Tammany Fire District #4 Chief of Training and Safety Martin Latino, "We knew a little bit before, we know a good bit now.

And with 42 Haz-Mat specialists on staff at Fire District 4 in Mandeville, department leaders feel prepared.

"We can handle any type of incident that happens, this just happens to be some type of a large scale incident," said David Murden, a training and safety officer with the department.

Months of testing from the vertical well will ultimately determine whether actual fracking will be pursued. But in the meantime, Helis is asking for a chance.

"Clearly the company has convinced the Corps of Engineers and every other agency that has looked at permitting that the company can do this job well," said Beuerman, "Now it's our responsibility to convince the community and to demonstrate that fact as we go forward."

If tests show a viable project, new permits will be needed to move forward with fracking.

The parish has appealed a lawsuit regarding the project, while a citizens group is considering a restraining order while the appeal is pending.


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