Legislators hope to streamline shale workPublished 12:04am Saturday, August 11, 2012
NATCHEZ — In the coming weeks state officials will meet with oil field developers to determine what the State of Mississippi needs to do to ensure the development of the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale is a worthwhile investment.
The Tuscaloosa shale is an unconventional oil play in Southwest Mississippi that has been known about for years but could not be developed because the technology to exploit the shale did not exist until recent years.
Gov. Phil Bryant formed a task force to determine what role the state has to play in the development of the shale earlier this year. Both Sen. Melanie Sojourner (R-Natchez) and Rep. Sam Mims (R-McComb) are on the task force. Sojourner said she requested the governor to form the task force.
“Early in January, I started having some conversations with the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Quality, talking to them about where we thought this play might be going, and I also started getting some calls from people in the oil business,” she said.
The states that have had the most success with oil development, Texas and North Dakota, have networks of state officials who were able to work to develop things on the ground, Sojourner said.
In addition to state officials, the senator said a regional consortium of economic development officials, local elected officials and businesspeople is being formed to determine what is needed to make things happen in a way that best benefits the region.
“We want to make sure the environment is right for these companies to do business in Mississippi,” Sojourner said. “This play straddles the Mississippi-Louisiana border, and we need to do everything we can so they choose to do business on the Mississippi side, but we also need to protect Mississippi’s best interests — water will be a challenge, and infrastructure will be a huge challenge.”
One of the most significant problems is that Southwest Mississippi does not have the bridges and roads necessary to facilitate the development of the shale, the legislators said.
“The infrastructure is the main issue,” Mims said. “We are looking at that, and there is not an easy solution to funding, and even if we had funding, time is not on our side.”
The state government is prepared to help if it can, though, Mims said.
Sojourner said one solution could be to borrow from a practice that was at one time used to develop Mississippi’s gaming industry.
“I went to the senior leadership and said, ‘If we can get a big enough commitment from these companies, would it be possible to front Mississippi Development Authority money to fund the development of (Mississippi Highway) 24 knowing that the severance tax money is coming?’” Sojourner said.
“I think we can do something like that with this play.”
But that proposal — and it’s just a proposal — would at least partially depend on the companies, Sojourner said.
“One of the things I asked of a few of the oil companies was, if they got to a point where they felt comfortable where the development of this play was going, was would they have a closed-door meeting with the governor and make some kind of commitment,” she said. “If you are ready to make some kind of commitment, then as a state we are a little more secure in making a big financial, infrastructure commitment.”
Sojourner said representatives of the oil companies have told her they’re waiting for results from a couple of wells, but she is hoping sometime in the next couple of weeks to facilitate a meeting between state leadership and oil executives.
“We are still early in the development of this play, but the news that we continue to get daily and weekly is nothing but encouraging,” she said.