Tuscaloosa Marine Shale: Remembering the oil boom of more than a decade ago. Hope springs eternal

Remembering the oil boom of more than a decade ago. Hope springs eternal

Mac Gordon Special to the Mississippi Clarion Ledger  March 19, 2024

They are keepsakes representing the hopes and dreams of a decade ago when more than just a few folks in Southwest Mississippi expected to find wealth from the oil business.

Didn’t happen for most. A few checks flowed, but too few of them and the amounts too small to make much of an impact.

Some likely did get rich or richer and I’m happy for them. I didn’t, but I never believed that was likely anyway with my kind of luck.

I was decluttering recently, the subject of my pastor’s sermon the previous Sunday. His reference was to unhealthy matters of the mind, while mine is to leases with firms that sent in crews to crack the hallowed earth in Amite County, drilling for black gold in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale through the environmentally controversial method called “fracking.”

Under directions from the lady of the house to declutter and clean out “that cabinet,” I came across all sorts of paperwork and other mementos related to oil: letters from landmen; come-ons from myriad Texas oil-related firms to buy mineral rights (“Immediate Cash Flow … Receive a Lump Settlement”); news of a local “fracking committee” holding a meeting to welcome the oil industry to the area; and petitions from the State Oil and Gas Board and drilling companies ready to act on a section of land.

I wrote several times about prospects in the TMS. In a June 2012 column, I said: “Schools gird for new students. Economic developers demand improved highways to handle new traffic. Brochures tout firms to service the renewed industry. Courthouses swarm with mineral rights leasing agents.

“That’s the fervor accompanying the news that Southwest Mississippi is sitting on a potential oil boom that could bring hundreds of new jobs … help wean America from foreign oil and turn a lot of ordinary folks into instant millionaires … Those first wells produced by ‘fracking’ have brought economic excitement to an area that has gained precious few industrial jobs over the past 30-40 years.”

I wrote of eyeballing two well sites in the “pristine wilds of southern Amite County … that are as remote and luscious as you’ll find.”

The documents show drilling for oil isn’t cheap: A certain”hot well” would cost $15,400,775 to drill, as in $15 million-plus. The actual “fracturing” expense was set at $4.1 million. 

Fracking involves pumping water, sand and chemicals into hard earth at high pressure to force out oil and natural gas, a controversial process that often produced howls of environmental disgust from the public and shouts of joy from hopeful leaseholders.

The McComb Enterprise-Journal quoted an ebullient oilfield executive as saying: “I know a lot of people have concerns about chemicals. The issue is not the chemicals. The issue is, is there a pathway for those to get into water. With good well-bore integrity, th ere’s no way.”

The article said further that fracking water could be used over and over again, “which cuts down on the need to draw more fresh water from the Amite River.”

Those were hopeful, even heady times for the southwest corner of Mississippi, straddling the line with Louisiana. The Tuscaloosa Marine Shale was steamy hot. Amite County was on fire. Oil money would enrich some leaseholders but all other citizens of cities and counties would be helped, too.         

Relatives were calling relatives: “Get a check today? Well, how much?” conversations went. “Didn’t get one? How is it possible I got one and you didn’t? You’d better call the office in Houston and tell ‘em there’s a problem.”

Even today, a full decade later, hope springs eternal.

Mac Gordon, a retired newspaperman, is a native of McComb. He can be reached at macmarygordon@gmail.com.

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The TMS is one of the few remaining "Holy Grail" O&G plays left.

Although no one doubts that the O&G in place is there - and theoretically recoverable as to a percentage of this volume - the mechanics of being able to drill and frac and maintain long laterals has never been consistently achieved.

Difficult subsurface conditions have prevented this from happening.

One can only hope that someday drillers will figure this out and be able to drill the long (2-3 mile) laterals in this difficult environment to tap this resource.

Remember - it wasn't that long ago that drilling laterals of this length in other basins was a pipe dream.

I remember the "rubble zone".

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