State Approves Controversial Drilling Permit In St. Tammany

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana's Department of Natural Resources has approved a drilling permit for Helis Oil & Gas Co., which plans a fracking project that many St. Tammany Parish residents vehemently oppose.

         The department posted a notice on its website late Friday saying it had approved the permit for a vertical well about 2 ½ miles deep.

         The permit is for an exploration well. New state approval and an Army Corps of Engineers wetlands permit would be needed if the company decides to proceed with hydraulic fracturing.

         The company says it will take months to study data from the exploratory well, once it is drilled, to tell whether the samples indicate it is worth using hydraulic fracturing — a technique that injects high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel, and chemicals to extract oil and gas from rock.

         St. Tammany Parish and the town of Abita Springs have sued DNR to prevent the well. This past week, Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany filed a motion to join the parish's lawsuit.

         The permit has a number of restrictions, including some on fracking. The department would have to approve privately owned ponds used for fracking water, and those ponds could not be fed by groundwater. Helis also would have to disclose all fracking chemicals. The permit also sets out a long list of requirements for monitoring groundwater, air, storm water and noise levels and for making that information public .

         The number of restrictions is unusual, but the rare decision to hold a public hearing on the matter let the agency include them, said Patrick Courreges, a spokesman for the Office of Conservation. He said the conditions are a direct response to concerns raised by residents at the hearing.

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