Dense is in play
Louisiana, Arkansas landowners anticipating big rewards
Editor's note: The following is the final of a series looking into gas and oil exploration in the Lower Smackover Brown Dense rock formation under much of Union Parish. The series explains current exploration, what that exploration has already meant for the parish and what it could potentially mean in the future.
T. Scott Boatright
Used by permission
While frankincense and myrhh are known as traditional Christmas fragrances, it's the potential smell of sweet and sour crude that has area landowners feeling like young children waiting for Santa Claus.
And instead of sugar plums dancing their through their heads, it's dollar signs moonwalking through their minds.
The Lower Smackover Brown Dense play is a rock formation running from East Texas to Florida. Oil and Gas Investor's website reports two horizontal test wells are currently under way - one by Southwestern Energy in southern Arkansas and one by Devon Energy Corp., which has some 40,000 net acres over Brown Dense. The Southwestern horizontal, in Columbia County, Ark., will have a vertical depth of some 8,900 feet and lateral length of 3,500 feet.
Tests samples of those wells could tell is there is obtainable oil or gas in the Lower Smackover Brown Dense formation. If there is oil or gas found, it could result in big paydays for people who own land throughout that formation, including many in Union Parish.
"It could be big for the area if they find something," Farmerville attorney David Post said. "And bigger than just oil or gas. Remember that during the California gold rush, it wasn't only miners who got rich. It was also the people servicing them - people selling picks and shovels, people selling blue jeans. They got rich, too."
Farmerville Mayor Stein Baughman Jr., said many town residents are more hopeful for the future with the potential of an oil play.
"It may be big talk around the coffee shop, but it's still a wait and see attitude in my arena," Baughman said. "We've already made a ton of money when they put the pipeline through here, and this has the potential to be bigger. Trailer parks for workers, grocery stores . everyone would benefit from the potential sales taxes workers would bring to town.
"But we still don't know what they'll find.
The good news is we've already received an economic boost just from all the leasing being done."
Since October of 2010, the Union Parish Clerk of Courts office has filed 3,400 oil, gas and mineral leases averaging around $45 per recording.
Farmerville attorney Johnny Dollar is also following the situation closely.
"What I'm hearing has me cautiously optimistic," Dollar said. "The oil companies don't release much information until they're ready, but there are signs they probably believe something is there. And if there is, the question is can they recover it with today's technology?
"But I think within the next two to five years, we'll be seeing some big changes around here. Good changes. And if it happens everyone will benefit, not only landowners, but everyone who lives in the parish."
Such a quick economic turnaround isn't unthinkable. It happened in northwestern Louisiana only three years ago as the Haynesville Shale play began invigorating Haynesville and the rest of DeSoto Parish. In fact, DeSoto Parish Today reported that Community Bank of Louisiana, headquartered in Mansfield, saw a growth in its business of more than 40 percent in 2008 because of the shale activity.
It said construction in Mansfield for at least the last year has included an approximate $20 million high school renovation and road construction at an intersection south of the town where a busy, two-lane highway is being transformed into a four-lane highway. Old, vacant buildings in Mansfield have been rented out to businesses related to gas drilling.
A New York Times article published in 2008 reported that the De Soto Parish Police Jury had $28.7 million in its bank accounts thanks to the Haynesville Shale.
And Union Parish itself was at one time part of a gas boom.
Historian Susan Roach wrote in "Gifts From The Hills: North Central Louisiana Folk Traditions" that the opening decade of the 20th century, in 1904, when the timber industry in North Louisiana was reaching its peak, wildcatters from Texas drilled a pumping oil well in Caddo Parish, the first successful oil well in North Louisiana.
Over the next 25 years, major drilling operations began at Haynesville-Homer field and the Lisbon field in Claiborne Parish and the Oakland field in Union Parish.
The gas boom Monroe experienced in the early 1900s shows the potential impact of a major find.
"Ouachita Parish had much more gas than it could use locally (in 1917)," Berney Oakland wrote in "Development of the Gas Industry," written for The Monroyan. "The industry was able to attract the carbon black industry to the city, and that industry supplied much of the money for the further development of Monroe field.
"Land values soared; royalties on land put ready cash into the landowners' pockets; hundreds of men were given steady employment; and the parish and city tax collections mounted in proportion, thus enabling the parishes to construct good roads and affording the city the luxury of paved streets, better schools, etc."
Union Parish Chamber of Commerce President Jerry Taylor said he plans to prepare for such an impact if the Brown Dense Play pays off.
"I've put it on the top of my list for the new year - to look more into it and to try to start making contacts that could benefit the parish in the future," Taylor said. "We don't know what will happen with all of it, but there's a lot of talk. We know they've sent a lot of people in from out of town to do the leasing. Supposedly they'll start some drilling after the start of the new year.
"Most of the talk so far I've heard has been about the bank deposits from all of the leases. So there's already been an impact. We're just hoping that impact increases tremendously in the future."