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Expo attendees see oil boom on the way

DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / Britt Herrin, executive director of the Pike County Chamber of Commerce, said Thursday he anticipates a major economic benefit for the area thanks to new energy extraction technologies.

DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / Britt Herrin, executive director of the Pike County Chamber of Commerce, said Thursday he anticipates a major economic benefit for the area thanks to new energy extraction technologies.

SUMMIT – Emerging technology in the energy drilling business has led to increased excitement, and a renewed enthusiasm concerning the ability to extract energy reserves in southwest Mississippi.

“We have always known the reserves were there. We have known for a while now. The only question was how would the oil and gas companies access these reserves,” Britt Herrin, executive director of the Pike County Chamber of Commerce, said Thursday at the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale Vendor Expo at the Southwest Mississippi Community College Training Center.

With the advent of new drilling technologies, Herrin’s question seems to have been answered, setting up what could very well be the largest energy boom in the history of Mississippi, according to the speakers and business officials at the exposition held Wednesday through Thursday.

Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracking are two of the recent technological advances that will now allow energy companies to set up shop in Mississippi, as well as the affiliated supply chain, which promises to contribute to local economies in a significant way.

As it sounds, horizontal drilling is the ability to drill over long distances horizontally. Fracking is the fracturing of rock by a pressurized liquid. Both techniques have evolved significantly in the last three years, said Gary Slade of Arlington Gas Pipeline.

“In the last three years, drilling technology has improved dramatically. Who knows where we will be in the next three years,” said Slade.

Slade’s company currently has close to 40 miles of pipeline that stretches from Liberty to McComb and to Magnolia. The pipeline forms an inverted V and crosses into three separate counties, including an area in Lincoln County. The pipeline covers approximately 10,000 acres of area, he said.

Slade, along with representatives from close to 30 other companies came to the two-day expo with high expectations for the near future.

“We are looking to tap into close to 200 years worth of energy reserves. This could very well be the biggest energy play in Mississippi history,” Slade said. “We hope to gather as much gas as we can.”

Tuscaloosa shale is a rock formation underlying much of central Louisiana and southwest Mississippi. Shale is considered a source rock, and it is known to have oil and gas production potential since it generally contains oil and gas reservoirs. Tuscaloosa shale can be found anywhere between 12,000 to 15,000 feet below ground. There can be approximately 20 feet of hydrocarbons to extract once the drill reaches the extraction zone, according to Slade.

Geologists have known about the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale formation for at least 60 years now. The question has always been how do energy companies extract the reserves from it?

With that question seemingly answered, the expo saw a flurry of companies from the area and beyond, attempting to get in on the upcoming energy boom, which has come to be known as the “Tuscaloosa Marine Shale play.”

The term Tuscaloosa Marine Shale formation stretches all the way from central Louisiana into southwest Mississippi. The “play” covers all of the key players involved: the energy and drilling companies and all of the other businesses – large and small – that contribute and play a role in the extraction of energy reserves in the area. The play promises to be big for the local economy, said Herrin.

“We are looking at anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 new jobs in the area. This is extraordinary,” said Herrin. “We had a difficult time handling the 2,000 to 3,000 people that came here post-Katrina. So, it’s something we are going to have to prepare for.”

CEO of Tuscaloosa Energy Services and a guest speaker at the expo, Charlotte Batson expands upon the likely effect.

“We are looking at a robust, bright future for the area,” said Batson, who also is the owner of Batson and Company. She was one of the guest speakers at the expo.

“When the drilling begins, it means a lot of opportunity for the local community. This includes an increase in sales tax revenue, better jobs available for the local population and ancillary businesses.”

“This will also include the real estate industry, restaurants and grocery stores. The list goes on and on,” Batson said.

Some estimates of the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale formation extend all the way east to Alabama, and as far north as Lincoln County. Batson believes there will be a very large increase in oil wells and rigs along this area in the next couple years.

“As we speed up production, we are seeing more and more oil wells and rigs moving in,” Batson said.

Goodrich Petroleum and the Encanna Corp. are the major players in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale play, and have leased much of the land that is currently being drilled, and land that is expected to be drilled in the near future.