In search of black gold in Mississippi - - Jackson, MS

In search of black gold in Mississippi

Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
AMITE COUNTY, MS (Mississippi News Now) - Folks are drilling down on a booming business. Experts say there could be as much as seven billion barrels of high grade oil in what's known as the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale. The sweet spot for oil stretches through Pike, Amite and Wilkinson counties.

"Some people here in Gillsburg said there ain't no oil here," explained land owner Max Lawson. "They don't know what they're talking about. Well then they got surprised. We've got a Jed Clampett in this one."

Max Lawson's dad was told about the oil thousands of feet below the surface, back in the 80's.

"That this was a hot spot," said Lawson.

He says he's not getting rich off the black gold. Checks are split six ways among his siblings. Still, they were skeptical the technology would ever come along to get the oil out. Now it's a reality, in the form of hydraulic fracturing, known as "fracking". They drill thousands of feet down. Then go horizontally as much as a mile in one direction. The idea is to pump a sand, water and chemical mixture to break through the rock. That creates pathways in the rock for the oil and gas to flow through.

"I didn't know nothing about oil wells," admitted Lawson. "I'm a farmer."

But he's learning. He's also building this 12 acre "fracking pond". He'll turn around and sell the water to oil companies that need it in large quantities. Things changed about three years ago when oil companies started drilling exploratory wells in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale. The activity is in pockets for now. But everyone's holding their breath for drills and wells to become more common site. That will translate to more money.

"They're counting dollar signs in their future," said Pike County Economic Development District Director Britt Herrin.

Herrin has watched his role evolve as the investments are made.

"It's going to be literally thousands of jobs," Herrin described. "It's going to mean that we have a lot of millionaires created in our region. And it's going to mean literally billions of dollars of tax revenue for the state of Mississippi."

An oilfield worker housing will be built in McComb. It would be for those working on the shale throughout the region. Herrin expects many of those workers to eventually move their families to the Magnolia State.

"It's not like a two or three year thing to where you'll have all these people come and be gone in five years," said Herrin. "They're going to be still drilling."

It's the work on the front end that's keeping Amite County Chancery Clerk Ronny Taylor busy. His office has been overrun with landmen searching for who owns certain property and mineral rights.

"We were accustomed to just having two or three or maybe eight or ten," Taylor said. "You know if you had eight or ten people back there I would've said, Lord we are swamped."

But at the height of it all there were 55 landmen crowded in.

"We incurred over 100,000 dollars worth of record damage," described Taylor. "Because our books are so old. A lot of them are still sown together. They just couldn't hold up to that kind of intense use."

Meanwhile, environmental groups continue to fight fracking. There's a website dedicated to the issue called "Stop the Frack Attack". When asked about drilling in Mississippi, the Sierra Club pointed to Denton, TX where voters banned fracking on a ballot measure Tuesday. Yet, there's no indication for a slow down on the projects in Mississippi.

Oil companies tell the landowners they'll return the property back to its natural state when the wells are drained dry. For folks like Max Lawson, he's not too worried about that. Because he's watching the activity breathe new life into the rural community.

"I mean, if there's a chance we can get oil, go for it," Lawson said.

One concern of local leaders in Southwest Mississippi is the infrastructure. They're hoping to get Highway 24 four-laned to ease the flow of traffic as more tankers begin to roll in.

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