MANDEVILLE, LA (WVUE) - Helis Oil & Gas is speaking out on it's fracking plan, offering assurances that their operations are safe.
The company wants to begin fracking near Log Cabin Road, between Highway 1088 and Interstate 12.
On a vast tract of land north of Mandeville, Log Cabin Road off Highway 1088 has been used to access hundreds of acres of prime timberland for years, and may soon be used for something far more lucrative.
"If it works and is successful, we can put multiple wells on this site without disturbing land or wetlands," said Mike Barham with Helis Oil.
Helis is now awaiting preliminary approval from the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources to form an ownership group that would drill for oil 1.2 miles southeast of Lakeshore High School. If it works, there could be dozens more wells in St. Tammany.
"We have leases and options on 68,000 acres. If in our wildest dreams this is good, we have thousand acre drilling units and that would be 68 locations if possible," said Barham.
Barham gave us a first look at the proposed ten acre drill site, and addressed some of the concerns of citizens who have protested, and filed suit, to try and block the project.
Many worry about contamination of the Southern Hills aquifer 2,000 feet below the surface. It's the parish's sole source of drinking water. Barham says there's no need to worry.
"This is actually close to some previous wells drilled in this area. There have been over 50 wells drilled in St. Tammany Parish," said Barham. Helis says all of the wells that came up dry were plugged, with no problems reported in the aquifer.
"Groundwater has never been contaminated in drilling in the U.S. because of the fact that these regulations are effective," said Charlotte Batson from Helis.
Helis says the proposed well would go down almost two miles below the aquifer and into the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale, an oil formation that's at half the depth previously drilled 30-50 years ago.
"One well was drilled to 22,000 feet. They were looking for deeper targets," said Barham.
Helis has already made some concessions. They say they will put in sound mufflers to limit noise from hydraulic fracturing of rock formations used to force out the oil. They also say they will keep truck traffic off Highway 1088 for two hour periods, at the start and finish of Lakeshore high's school day.
Truck traffic will come off I-12 and go two miles off 1088," said Barham.
Helis says the drill pad will be in that location. They say the risks of a mishap are minimal. They also say they are willing to train local fire officials just in case.
"Whoever the parish wants to send to this school we will train first responders," said Barham.
Though Helis is a Louisiana company, this would be it's first Louisiana fracking well. The company has drilled 645 fracking wells in South Dakota and Wyoming.
"We've got a great environmental record. In Wyoming we're drilling on federal property and work closely with the Bureau of Land Management. We work closely with them and there are no issues," said Barham.
Helis says St. Tammany's well has a fifty-fifty chance of success, but could open the door for dozens more.
"If it's economic, we will plan future wells. If it's not economic, there may be no more wells in the future," said Barham.
Once permits are in place, Helis officials will know, one way or the other, within four months of the start of drilling.
Helis says it will drill down vertically to a depth of about 12,000 feet, then remove the rig for analysis.
If they think there's oil, then horizontal drilling would take place before fracking would begin.
Helis is now waiting for permit approval from the Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers. Either one could come any day now.