It's summertime in Louisiana, which means nothing but swimming and fishing can take the heat away. Families across the state flee to the protected rivers of the Florida parishes for some respite. Most are unaware that things are about to get hotter.
Of all the companies in the southern part of the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale, the one that fails to be discouraged by the low oil prices is Goodrich. Perhaps its recent unit purchases from Devon need to be paid off. Although its stock prices are a fraction of what it could be, and market analysts proclaim that the Tuscaloosa won't be profitable until oil gets closer to $100, the company is fracking in the extreme south and eastern end of what state geologists and private consultants consider the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale. This area spans a number of Pontchartrain watersheds, including the Bogue Chitto and Tangipahoa.
Goodrich's wells in Washington Parish are shut in, a sign that the company's plans are slowing with its tanking stock, although one rig does remain in the area. At least one well off Little Silver Creek in the Bogue Chitto basin has been fracked and is running a constant flare. Well 248775 is the latest hole punched deep into the Southern Hills Aquifer, this one in Tangipahoa Parish. According to the DNR record, the well was fracked recently.
Fracking is known in the industry as an extreme form of drilling, and the Tuscaloosa a strangely pressurized, deep, and extreme play to frack in. It can be expected, then, that some routine things are more likely to go wrong. And according to the DNR record, the drillers of 248775 lost some tools down the hole at about 3600 feet. This is known as "fishing," and generally, when the tool is lost, the drill has to back up and go around the blockage--just like you have to drill a second hole in your wall to hang your trophy bass if you break off your drill bit the first time. Only this mistake endangers people's drinking water.
There's an unfired flare stack surrounded by a berm, as well as an additional compressor pad just off the site. one wonders, then, if this well is producing more wet gas and condensate with the oil found in the more central, thicker parts of the shale play.
248775 from Hwy 38 looking south, flare present two weeks later.
Although unsightly, the contant flare in these photos is seen by EPA as a better option than just releasing the natural gas and other pollutants into the air--the flare is supposed to burn off harmful gases. This site did stink from Hwy 38, though, so one wonders about the ability of these small fires to burn off unwanted air pollutants. One also wonders whether the parish has considered taxing the company to pay for parish fire response--the Coastal Plain is an ecosystem full of pines that grow to burn.
The only fishing GRN wants in Little Silver Creek is the kind that leads to dinner. We're concerned that a second-tier company is desperate enough to be working while the bigger companies are shut in. We're keeping an eye on the Little Silver just in case the company moves into bankruptcy rather than site cleanup. Louisiana has a whole coast of terrible lessons to learn from.
Scott Eustis is GRN's coastal wetland specialist
July 13th flight photos are here
July 24th swimming trip photos are here
Video of Goodrich 248775 can be viewed here
Float the Bogue Chitto!