Lake foundation asks Corps to hold up action on permit for oil well

Advocate graphic
Advocate graphic

Add the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation to the chorus of voices urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny, or at least delay, a wetlands permit for a planned oil well near Mandeville in St. Tammany Parish.

In a new report and an accompanying letter to the Corps, the foundation urges the Corps to put an indefinite hold on Helis Oil & Gas’ application for a permit to build a 10-acre drilling pad on land classified as wetlands north of Interstate 12 and east of La. 1088.

Helis plans to drill a 13,000-foot-deep vertical well. If test samples come back positive, the well will be extended horizontally and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” will be employed to extract oil.

The foundation says in its report that Helis’ well will be the first in Louisiana’s coastal zone to use hydraulic fracturing, in which water, sand and chemicals are pumped into the ground to create cracks in rock through which oil and natural gas can be pumped out. The foundation asks the Corps to put the permit application on hold until a number of issues it cites can be resolved to the group’s greater satisfaction.

The report calls for more study in at least nine areas, including potential road damage, the risk of harm to the parish’s underground aquifer, alternative site analysis and assessment of potential hazardous materials “expertise and needs” for oil and gas drilling.

In addition, the letter asks the Corps to study potential effects on threatened or endangered species in the area as well as all additional potential wetlands impacts, not just for the 960-acre proposed drilling unit but for all 60,000 acres that Helis has leased or holds options for.

Fracking has been controversial around the nation, where it has been blamed for a number of health and environmental problems. Some communities have attempted to ban or at least curtail it, with varying degrees of success.

In St. Tammany, the opposition has been vociferous. In addition to numerous protest groups, Parish President Pat Brister and 13 of the 14 members of the Parish Council signed a letter to the state’s commissioner of conservation urging him to reject Helis’ as-yet-unsubmitted application for a drilling permit.

Other groups — including the Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany — have urged supporters to send letters of opposition to the Corps, which extended the public comment period on Helis’ application after Concerned Citizens sought a temporary restraining order in federal court. The public comment period closes June 16.

Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.