Oil, gas drilling approved in city

Published 12:04 pm Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Shreveport-based company won approval from the Vicksburg Board of Zoning Appeals Tuesday to begin an exploratory oil and gas drilling operation within six months on 6.8 acres of land near the convergence of North Washington Street and U.S. 61 North.

Sklar Exploration Company representative Joel Rice said drilling a 11,500-foot test well could begin as soon as the end of the month, far sooner than the six-month start date approved by the board. Though several companies have drilling operations in the county, including a subsidiary of Sklar, Zoning Administrator Dalton McCarty said this would be the first well drilled inside the city limits.

Before giving the OK to change zoning of the property to L-2 heavy industrial from C-4 general commercial and granting a special exemption for drilling, zoning board members questioned Rice and his attorney, Landman Teller, for about a half-hour about the effect on nearby residents.

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The nearest home is approximately 280 feet from the proposed well site, said Teller, which exceeds the minimum 150-foot setback requirement in the city ordinance for heavy industrial businesses. Teller also noted no residents in the area attended the meeting to object to the operation.

“My understanding is a substantial number of residents in the area have leases for the production of oil and gas, and if they strike oil they’d be very happy,” Teller told the board.

On Sept. 5, 1939, oil was discovered at Tinsley just north of Warren in Yazoo County. Maps still show the location of a community named Oil City.

A state historic marker at Tinsley says it was the first oil field east of the Mississippi in the Gulf Coast region. During its first 50 years, 220 million barrels of oil were produced, the sign says.

In the 1970s, commercial removal of natural gas was begun near Oak Ridge in Warren County and there have also been production sites in western Hinds County.

Rice said drilling would last about two to three weeks, during which workers would be on site 24-hours a day. Once erected, the rig would be visible from the highway, and Rice said it’s possible a pair of 20-30-foot high storage tanks approved by the board would also be seen by passing motorists. He said there is typically no detectable odor from drilling operations.

As for noise caused by drilling, Rice said similar operations in other areas by the company do not exceed 72 decibels at 300 feet. Most government research suggests safe exposure is 85 decibels for up to eight hours a day. Busy city traffic typically generates 85 decibels of sound, while a jackhammer or an iPod at full volume will generate about 120 decibels. Once the well is drilled, Rice said noise from the operations would be significantly reduced.

Sklar already has won approval by the Mississippi Oil and Gas Board to drill on the site, Teller said. The Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen still will have to give the final stamp of approval on rezoning the property.

Pending approval by the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the city, Teller said an access road off U.S. 61 North will be built on the site. He said “90 to 99 percent” of all truck traffic created by the operation will not extend into the city, but will be routed onto the highway.

Board members present were Tim Fagerburg, Warren Jones, Tommie Rawlings and Fred Katzenmeyer. Also Tuesday, the board:

• Gave Lynne Brush two years to pave the parking lot at 3040 Halls Ferry Road, where a consignment shop is planned. The lot will have to accommodate seven parking spaces, including one handicap space.

• OK’d meeting minutes from May 4.