GILLSBURG, Miss. — Residents living above an oil-rich shale formation that stretches across southwest Mississippi and Louisiana have been waiting on a boom for years. A steady trickle of drilling is already boosting the rural region’s economy, and spending by two oil companies could make 2014 the year that many other locals finally cash in on the oil far beneath their feet.
Already, Max Lawson has spent hours watching the round-the-clock work of shoving pipe into the ground in his back pasture. The process began two years ago when Encana Corp. built a big gravel pad, but it didn’t take off until late last year when a convoy of 200 trucks carted in a drilling rig and other equipment to bore into the earth looking for oil.
“They call it the Gillsburg Christmas tree,” he said while standing near the brightly lit rig. “It looks like a little city over here at night.”
Gillsburg and surrounding Amite County lie above a prime section of the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale, a geologic formation that stretches in boomerang shape across Louisiana’s midsection and into southern Mississippi. Drillers have known about the formation north of the Gulf of Mexico for years, but affordable technology to remove the oil from the shale’s tight pores was slow to develop.
Thanks partly to advances in hydraulic fracturing techniques, Encana Corp. and Goodrich Petroleum plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in the area in 2014. So far, Goodrich and others have drilled more than 30 wells across the region, trying to find the right methods.
Goodrich Chief Operating Officer Robert Turnham said that number could double or triple in the area straddling the state line just this year if drillers continue to make progress.
“It’s at a stage where you need more wells that have consistent results, that show the repeatable results there are in other plays,” Turnham said.