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Official estimates impact of Tuscaloosa Marine Shale

NATCHEZ — Local economic development officials are — in the words of Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ — feeling bullish about the possibilities of the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale.

Speaking at the weekly Friday Forum, Russ said that between the two major players in the TMS, Goodrich Petroleum and Encana, a $500 million drilling campaign is planned for next year.

“For Goodrich, their market cap is approximately $930 million, and next year they are putting in $300 million (in the TMS) — they are all in,” Russ said.

The TMS is a marine deposited shale formation that has been the source bed for the Tuscaloosa sand sections that have been drilled in Mississippi for decades. The shale is located under several Mississippi counties and Louisiana parishes, including Amite, Wilkinson and Adams counties.

Though energy producers have drilled through the shale in the past to get to the oil under it, the migrating clays in the shale itself have limited the ability of companies to tap directly into the source.

New technologies are making that possible, however, and Russ said several operators believe they have cracked the code to drilling the shale.

“It is really about reducing their operating costs in there,” Russ said. “The first well they drilled in the TMS ran them approximately $25-26 million,” he said. “The last well that was drilled by Goodrich was approximately an $11 million well.”

“They really want to get to a $10 million per well opportunity in the TMS.”

One of the major challenges the industry will face if the shale continues to develop and becomes fully commercial is the availability of housing and labor.

“They are estimating that if the play becomes commercial and becomes a viable play, that is going to be 30,000 jobs, which absolutely boggles my head all the way around,” he said.

“This is 30,000 jobs that are sustained by the service of that oil field over time, and the reserves that are there are tremendous — it is a 30-40 year event that is taking place down there.”

While Natchez Inc. and other development entities are working with local oil service businesses to help facilitate local involvement in the coming boom, Russ said in some ways the region as a whole is playing catch up with the development.

“At its current pace right now, it is probably something that we are going to try to manage the best we can,” he said.

“We have an opportunity that we are still a little in the front of it to try to manage it a little bit, but it is coming quick if things continue as is.”

While Baton Rouge already has labor and supply support industries, Russ said Natchez will be competing more with McComb and St. Francisville for TMS support industries.

“(The companies) are going to try to get positioned around the play,” Russ said. “We offer both sides of the play, and we have a bridge point, which is going to be key. If (a company) wants to get down into Mississippi they can, but they can also get down into Avoyelles (Parish). Whether you are drilling Mississippi or Louisiana, you can do it from Adams County.”

In the last 22 months, the energy sector has invested $66.5 billion in expansion in Louisiana and Texas, excluding shale plays, Russ said.

“There has probably never been an economic expansion of an industrial sector in that short a time in our country’s history,” he said. “We have got to make sure Mississippi continues to be a partner and a player and continues to market energy to that sector.”