Arlington oil operation denied

Published 12:02 am Thursday, January 10, 2013

NATCHEZ — After hearing pleas from residents and having a lengthy discussion, the Natchez Preservation Commission voted 5-1 at its Wednesday meeting to deny, for a second time, a proposed oil well operation on historic Arlington property.

The oil well operation would be in the same location as Mike Biglane of RMB Exploration previously proposed but the city denied. However, Biglane moved a portion of the project — the proposed oil tank farm — to a parcel of land accessed from the end of Ouachita Street.

Because the tank battery farm was moved, the oil well operation would be on 6.1 acres of Arlington property, approximately 9 acres fewer than the originally proposed 15 acres.

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The well operation, Biglane said, would be 592 feet from the Arlington house, which was named the second most endangered historic property in Mississippi by the Mississippi Heritage Trust in 2009.

City Planner Frankie Legaux provided a development agreement to the commission shortly before the meeting. Legaux said the site plan received preliminary approval in early December from the site plan committee, which is comprised of representatives from planning, engineering, police and other departments.

The operation would be 265 feet from the nearest residence, Biglane said.

One of the nearby residences would be that of Nona Colombo, who has previously appeared before the commission to voice concerns against the oil operation. Colombo asked Wednesday why the commission was hearing the application since it was previously denied by the preservation and planning commissions and the board of aldermen.

“We heard it once, we voted, and it should have been over,” she said.

Colombo urged the commissioners not to feel they had to be strong-armed into approving the application because it was before the oil and gas board.

Historic Natchez Foundation Executive Director Mimi Miller, who has been working with the city and Biglane on a compromised agreement for the operation, told residents in the audience that the foundation has worried a lot about Arlington and the effects of the operation on nearby residents.

“It’s a real dilemma,” she said. “I wish I could tell you that we had a come up with a solution for you.”

Miller commended the city, which she said has also been in a difficult position, for attempting to reach a compromise to preserve some peace at Arlington and nearby residences and allow Biglane to move forward.

“The oil and gas board does have tremendous power, and they are maintaining that they have more power than the city,” she said.

Miller noted that a Forrest County vs. the oil and gas board case is currently before the Supreme Court that could determine if the board can overrule a municipality.

“If the Supreme Court case had been decided at this point, then we would know,” she said.

Commissioner Liz Dantone made the motion to deny the application after the commission voted down her previous motion to postpone any action until the commissioners could visit the proposed site. Commissioner Valencia Hall voted against the motion to deny the application.

Commissioners Cornelius Bradley, Bradley Harrison and Tony DeAngelis were not at the meeting.

Dantone asked Biglane several questions about the logistics of the drilling operation, including why he could not move the operation to the tank farm site.

“Because that rig would be sitting out in the middle of Main Street,” he said.

Biglane explained to Dantone that he has to have a 200-square foot piece of land to put an oilrig. Dantone concluded that moving the operation to the tank farm site would put the oil rig just 65 feet from the right-of-way of Main Street.

Commission Chairwoman Marty Seibert also asked Biglane if he had considered horizontal directional drilling, which would have less of an impact on the site. The city previously requested that Biglane consider directional drilling.

Biglane told Seibert that he thought about directional drilling, but he said it would increase his cost of drilling from $130,000 to $300,000.

RMB Exploration conducted preliminary oil exploration on Arlington property in late 2011 and early January without completing the city’s approval process for the operation.

Biglane appeared before the preservation commission last January for approval, which wasn’t granted at the time. Biglane never returned to the commission after the exploration resulted in a dry hole.

Biglane returned to the preservation commission in May with an amended application for a second proposed oil operation.

The oil well was denied by the preservation and planning commissions. The Natchez Board of Aldermen denied Biglane’s appeal to the preservation commission’s decision.

Biglane filed an application with the Mississippi State Oil and Gas Board last summer for authority to drill the well previously denied by the city.

The oil and gas board has since granted the city two continuances to allow time for all interested parties to come to a compromise on the oil operation.

Biglane told the preservation commission Wednesday that the oil and gas board said it would not grant the city any more continuances and would hear his application at its next meeting.

The oil and gas board is scheduled to hear Biglane’s application to drill the well previously denied by the city at the board’s meeting next Wednesday.

The application before the oil and gas board also seeks to force pool land ownership in the proposed 40-acre oil unit.

Forced pooling essentially forces non-consenting landowners to join the agreements with their neighbors.

Biglane said after the meeting that he was blindsided at the meeting when the preservation commission denied his application.

“We have been working with the city, and I thought we had everything worked out with the city, but you go before the preservation commission, and it’s a totally different animal,” he said.

Biglane said he has not yet decided if he will appeal the denial of his application. Appeals to preservation commission decisions are decided in Adams County Chancery Court now.