Sunday, January 25, 2009

Houma Today

New state drilling rules focus on safety

Jeremy Alford
Capitol Correspondent

Published: Sunday, January 25, 2009 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 11:17 p.m.
BATON ROUGE -- Louisiana has enacted what may be the most stringent rules in the country to regulate oil-and-gas companies that drill over water in close proximity to an interstate system.

From a historical perspective, it’s yet another industry first in instances where water and oil overlap.

In the early 1900s, Caddo Lake in Mooringsport hosted the first above-water drilling operation in the U.S.’s long history of energy production.

Over the past decade, just off the shores of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, explorers have reached ever deeper to siphon oil and gas from the ocean floor – lately at depths of 5,000 feet or more.

Endorsed by Conservation Commissioner James Welsh earlier this month, the new policy prohibits companies from drilling wells within 1,000 feet of an interstate highway that runs over a major waterway.

Most other states don’t have such a rule. Those that do have an average 100-foot threshold.

Along the Interstate-10 and Interstate-12 corridor and beyond, that’s prime property.

It includes areas like the I-10 crossing of the Atchafalaya Basin, Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain; the I-12 crossing of the Amite River; and the I-20 crossing of the Red River, among others.

Louisiana officials still are reeling from the gas-well blowout in November 2007. The blaze was tremendous and closed I-10 at Ramah, right outside Grosse Tete, for a 11 days.

Welsh said the state is so serious about taking a preventive approach that another set of rules went into effect in December to complement the ban.

They call for recurring training, design specifications, new diverters and updated requirements for the quick operation of valves controlling gas and fluid flow.

“We want to minimize as much as humanly possible all potential well blowouts, no matter where the well is located,” Welsh said.

Oil-and-gas companies aren’t overjoyed about the new regulations, Welsh said, but most have been quick to point out their attention to safety.

For instance, Bridas Energy USA Inc., which was responsible for operating the Ramah well in 2007, plans to re-drill in the same area, only this time under the new 1,000-feet guidelines.

“The new rules have placed new burdens on oil-and-gas exploration companies,” Welsh said, “but they too recognize the need to make the drilling process as safe as possible for their employees and the public.”

Jeremy Alford can be reached at

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