St. Tammany ponders next move in fracking fight

St. Tammany ponders next move in fracking fight
Helis Oil has a state permit to drill off Hwy 1088, northeast of Mandeville. (Source: WVUE Photo)

MANDEVILLE, LA (WVUE) - St. Tammany parish officials say the battle over fracking isn't over yet. They are now considering new legal and legislative options after suffering two big court setbacks.

But Helis Oil presses on.

The land where Helis proposes to frack off Highway 1088 and I-12 sits quiet, though two courts have been anything but.

"We have confidence in our legal system, in our view it's not a question of if the project will happen, it's when," said Greg Beuerman, a spokesman for Helis.

In the past week, courts in St. Tammany and Baton Rouge have struck down efforts to have local zoning control over whether fracking is allowed, and some parish officials are disappointed.

"There are thousands emailing saying we don't want this," said St. Tammany Councilman Jake Groby.

Parish officials have already spent $150,000 to fight fracking, and they are now trying to determine if they will continue to spend more.

"We don't want to spend any more taxpayer money," Groby said.

While the council weighs its legal options, the mayor of Abita Springs has been looking for help in the Louisiana Legislature. Abita Springs mayor Greg Lemons wants state lawmakers to approve changes to give local government more control.

"It just doesn't seem right that a judge can take rights away from local government for land use," Lemons said.

But some worry that any action taken now may be too late.

"We anticipate Corps action long before this is heard in the court of appeal," Lemons said, and he said it's about more than just one well.

"The problem I have is the 200-plus wells or more that could go on the 60,000 acres leased by Helis Oil," said Lemons.

And he's promising to continue to press his fight in spite of recent defeats in court.

Groby said the fracking proposal is stalling development even though it hasn't been approved.

But Beuerman said that's not true, citing a rising number of building permits in the area. The St. Tammany Council could decide the next legal move at a meeting in early May.

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