Decision on reserve in Claiborne due in fall|[6/23/06]

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 23, 2006

PORT GIBSON – A decision on whether a Claiborne County site will be chosen for an expansion of the country’s strategic petroleum reserve is due this fall.

An underground salt dome at Bruinsburg is one of five sites under consideration by the U.S. Department of Energy for expansion of the oil reserve by 160 million barrels.

The expected time for the decision was given by the reserve’s planning and engineering office director, David Johnson, at a public meeting at the Claiborne County Multi-Purpose Center.

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A comment period remains open until July 10 and the energy department will continue to accept written comments on the environmental impact until then, Johnson said.

Three people, Claiborne County administrator James Miller, Mississippi Development Authority geologist Jack Moody and Vernon Phillips of Jackson oil-and-gas company Anabasis LLC spoke.

The reserve was created by Congress for national emergencies. Oil is purchased and stored in various ways, including underground salt domes hollowed out by injecting fresh water.

Miller said the county’s board of supervisors supports the plan and has been talking to the state’s congressional delegation about it.

&#8220We see Southwest Mississippi as being an integral part of the solution,” Miller said of the nation’s demand for energy.

Moody called the site’s geology favorable and said its location on the Mississippi River was also important, both as a source of fresh water for hollowing out the domes to create the oil-storage space and as an avenue for shipping.

&#8220You couldn’t find a better place to have a saltwater-injection facility than here,” Moody said.

The site is one of two in Mississippi on the department’s list. The other is at Richton, east of Hattiesburg in Perry County.

The other three sites under consideration are in Louisiana and Texas. The Bruinsburg site is the farthest inland and Moody said that was an advantage due to the lower risk of storm damage.

The meeting was the second of two held so far on the location by the Department of Energy. The first was in December.

If the Bruinsburg site is chosen it would take about 10 years to hollow out the storage areas, the first of which would begin being filled with crude oil in about 2015, Johnson said.

The oil reserve is being increased from current 727 million barrels to 1 billion barrels.

Three existing sites, two in Louisiana and one in Texas, are to be expanded but a per-site cap of 250 million barrels makes necessary expansion to at least one additional site.

Bruinsburg and one of the other four salt-dome sites under consideration, Clovelly, La., are relatively small and the 160-million-barrel expansion capacity could be split between them, Johnson said. Under that plan Bruinsburg, would receive an 80-million-barrel site and Clovelly one of 80 to 120 million barrels.

If Bruinsburg is both selected and deemed large enough a 160-million-barrel storage could be built there in 16 caverns able to hold 10 million barrels each. A site of that size would be connected to a north-south pipeline east of here by a new oil pipeline and by pipeline to Baton Rouge, Johnson said. If Bruinsburg is selected for an 80-million-barrel site only the pipeline to the east would be built, he said.

The pipelines would parallel existing power-transmission lines or existing natural-gas pipelines for at least 40 percent of their routes, Johnson said.

Johnson said cost estimates were still being developed for the potential expansion locations.

Geologist Stan Thieling of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality was among about 12 people plus Department of Energy staff who attended the meeting. He said his department identified 51 salt domes of the depth that would make them eligible for an SPR site, about 6,000 feet. That number makes the state rich in salt domes, especially ones that are inland, he said.

Private companies have been developing salt domes here for other storage purposes since the 1950s, he said. Two that have been developed recently store compressed liquefied natural gas, he said.