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Area works to capitalize on oil prospects

Photo illustration by Ben Hillyer

The development of the Tuscaloosa marine shale could mean big money for Southwest Mississippi, and local economic development leaders are working to make sure companies considering locating to the area find the transition as easy as possible.

They also want to ensure that transition is as profitable for the Miss-Lou as it can be.

Natchez Inc. Communications Director Aimee Guido said the local economic development community is working to ensure that smooth transition by researching how other areas that have in recent years seen oil and gas booms — for example, the Haynesville and Eagleford shales — have marketed themselves.

One simple solution is to have a one-stop website that lists all of the area’s oil support services, tourist accommodations and other needs an oil company may need, Guido said. Though it’s not completed yet, that website will be located at www.drillmississippi.com.

Though portions of the Tuscaloosa marine shale have been drilled in Mississippi during the last three to four decades, in the last couple of years it has been the subject of renewed attention as oil drilling technology has improved. Companies have in the past been able to drill through the shale, which serves as the source bed for deposits under it, but until recently oil field equipment that was able to handle the migrating clays in the shale did not exist, limiting the access to the oil within the shale itself.

With the ability to tap the shale have come extensive oil exploration efforts focusing on Wilkinson and Amite counties, though the shale also reaches into Adams, Franklin, Pike and Walthall counties and under the Mississippi River into Louisiana.

“We are in the very early stages of gathering information from local companies to have them listed (on the website),” Guido said.

“Someone who works in oilfield supplies, might want to be listed, but if (the companies locating here) need a place to have a meeting of if they are wanting to find a place to house a temporary company office, we want to list the buildings we have available.”

The information listed for office buildings might also include short- and long-term rates for leases, Guido said.

Those who have lived in the Miss-Lou for any amount of time have heard the debate — should the area focus on tourism or industrial development? But www.drillmississippi.com moves beyond the debate, because it’s a partnership between Natchez Inc. and the Natchez Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

“We have a joint interest here,” Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ said. “We are working to attract suppliers and some of the interests and the people who are associated with that as the play continues to develop. When you start looking at it from a big-picture standpoint, you start getting into hotels, motels and the ancillary support services that are going to be needed. Since the CVB is already equipped in that manner, we thought we would partner with them and try to go about it that way.”

The goal is in part to capture the economic ripple effect of the oil development. Though Adams County may not see as much in terms of actual oil money, it can reap the benefits of development south of the area.

“The shale has a huge employment and investment potential for Southwest Mississippi, and we are just trying to be certain that we capture as much of that economic benefit as possible instead of seeing it go to some other community, said Natchez Inc. Chairwoman Sue Stedman. “We have lots of oil service companies here, and we want them to know about that, but we want to see all of those dollars that can come in, to make sure we capture their overnights in our hotels as opposed to them running down to Baton Rouge if they are in Woodville.”

Having additional people in the area staying overnight means that outside of the oil industry, many personal services will feel an effect, Stedman said.

“The main thing is to make them very comfortable, and that goes from everything to housing to food service to laundry,” she said. “There are tons of personal services that you need every day at home — haircuts, gasoline, tires, everything that you do in your regular routine you have got to have access to here if you are here for an extended period of time.”