W. Feliciana prepares for boom

Area waits to see how Tuscaloosa Marine Shale develops

Most of West Feliciana Parish — the sweet spot in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale — has already been leased to oil companies.

Now it’s just a matter of waiting to see how the formation’s development goes, said Dennis Manshack, the parish’s economic development director, on Wednesday.

“There are a lot of challenges. We have to get ahead of the growth,” Manshack said.

Manshack was part of a panel discussion at the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale Summit. The two-day summit, which was held at the Renaissance Hotel Baton Rouge, concluded Wednesday.

The parish is in discussions with a number of hotel chains about new locations. West Feliciana officials are also working with the state to establish three large certified sites for oilfield service companies. The largest of the proposed certified sites, 575 acres, lies west of U.S. 61 near the KPAQ Industries paper mill south of St. Francisville.

Under the program, the sites’ zoning, price and surveys are set, Manshack said. The sites are “shovel-ready.”

Service companies don’t have to negotiate, he said. They know what is available going in.

The parish hasn’t certified any sites for the “man camps” or “crew camps,” instant housing for the expected flood of workers needed, Manshack said.

Tim Fisher, co-founder of Tuscaloosa Energy Services and one of the summit’s organizers, said crew camps — the term the industry insists on — are a much more professional arrangement brought in by companies like Halliburton.

The service companies supply their own water, sometimes their own sewage treatment, and put up a fence. They provide transportation for their workers.

The camps’ rules are very strict, Fisher said. The service companies don’t allow alcohol or visitors because they want “safety, safety, safety.”

Manshack said West Feliciana is open to the camps, which are like premier RV parks with restrictions, but wants to make sure the developments are well-managed.

The parish also wants to develop residential housing and manage the amount of building so that there isn’t an economic decline after the Tuscaloosa’s development, Manshack said.

Chandler Russ, executive director of Natchez Inc., the economic development agency of Natchez and Adams County, Miss., said people mistakenly believe the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale will develop in one big rush, that 30,000 people will come in and punch a bunch of holes in the ground and then leave.

But the reality is the formation will take 20 or 30 years to develop and that thousands of those workers will become permanent residents, Russ said.

Fisher said the first people to come in, the people doing the hydraulic fracturing, won’t need permanent housing.

The pattern is usually crew camps, then hotels, then townhomes and single-family residences, he said. The homes will be bought by people servicing the rigs.

Only now, four years after development began in the Bakken Shale in North Dakota, have service company employees begun buying permanent homes, Fisher said.