ST. TAMMANY, La. - Hundreds of acres along Highway 1088 in the Mandeville-Abita Springs area could become home to the next attempt at bringing the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale to life.
The shale, an oil and gas reservoir, has been productive in other parts of the state, but recent interest in the St. Tammany Parish portion has shale experts antsy.
"The idea that there's drilling activity going on in St. Tammany Parish and the Northshore is quite consistent with the broader area’s potential and quite exciting when looking at the results some companies have gotten already," said Charlotte Batson with Tuscaloosa Energy Services.
Helis Oil & Gas, out of New Orleans, submitted a public hearing request late last month for its project to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, which controls permits for this kind of work.
The paperwork only details the target area to drill, close to Lakeshore High School, and target depth for fracking, 12,000 to 13,000 feet. That's leaving some residents with plenty of questions and concerns.
"Fracking and oil shale drilling has inherent risks associated with it, and any kind of accident or any kind of breach can result in permanent damage to our aquifer and ground water," said Jessica DeVun.
Abita Springs Mayor Greg Lemons expressed the same concern about the aquifer, but Batson said years of drilling through other area aquifers shows the concerns are not necessary.
“The Kentwood aquifer has been drilled over 4,000 times, going back before World War II, and because these processes are well regulated and appropriate guidelines are in place, the Kentwood aquifer remains safe and is safe today. The air is fine, the ground water is fine," she said, “I really think the issues is lack of awareness, to be honest."
A company spokesperson for Helis said it plans to work through the process with all stakeholders to make sure everything is done right, as they have for years.
People in the industry say the risks are not as great as the benefits of jobs, potential decreased utility rates and tax revenue.
"The people on the Northshore and southeast Louisiana should have great confidence in their state regulatory bodies to watch out for their natural resources," said Batson.
Leaders, who have already met with the company, said they plan to keep a close eye on any activity.
"I've just been fact finding on my own about fracking and what it does, what it means, how it can affect a community, good and bad. There are arguments for both sides and I'm getting both sets of facts," said St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister. “We want to make sure that even though we don't have the authority, nor responsibility to issue these permits, we want to know all about what's going on so we can protect ourselves from whatever issue might come up."
Residents say they just want these companies to hear them out.
“Maybe just get them to understand we really just want them to be careful in our area," said DeVun, "This is our land, this is our home, so we really want to take care of it and try to avoid as much as possible those risks that are associated with fracking and oil shale drilling."
And in a late development Tuesday, St. Tammany state Rep. Tim Burns, R-Mandeville, is now asking for the public hearing on the project, originally set for May 13 in Baton Rouge, to be delayed at least 60 days. Burns said that’s so leaders can review the proposal and get community input.