Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Secretary Scott Angelle said Wednesday that the energy exploration industry has begun work on developing yet another new oil and natural gas shale play in Louisiana – giving the state one proven and producing shale formation and two that are being watched closely as the early stages of activity begin.
The potential new interest area, spanning portions of North Louisiana and southern Arkansas, is referred to as the "Brown Dense" or the "Lower Smackover," and is believed to be a layer of limestone at the base of the Smackover Formation – which itself is a well-known formation that has long been a source for traditionally produced oil and natural gas in North Louisiana.
The "Brown Dense" joins the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale as the second half of Louisiana's duo of dense rock plays believed to have the kind of production potential that has made shale plays such as Louisiana's Haynesville and the Barnett and Eagle Ford Shales of Texas the new normal in energy exploration. The Tuscaloosa Marine Shale is believed to underlie much of Central Louisiana, with potential productive areas currently being explored from Vernon Parish to East Feliciana Parish.
The energy industry is watching the development of the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale and the Brown Dense closely, as both are believed to have the potential to contain oil reserves, in addition to natural gas. New processes and technology have led to rapid gains in domestic oil and natural gas reserves, making them recoverable from ultra-dense formations once thought uneconomical to produce.
"We in Louisiana have a long and distinguished history of providing the energy that fuels this nation, and I am bullish on the future of energy production in this state and the role it will play in providing jobs and economic strength," Angelle said. "We are seeing that exploration companies and investors share that optimism and belief in Louisiana's natural resources as they seek new domestic reserves of oil and natural gas. The development of the Haynesville Shale natural gas play, the top-producing natural gas play in the nation, has helped give them that confidence."
Initial development of the Brown Dense formation, generally believed to underlie northern Claiborne, Union and Morehouse parishes in North Louisiana, has barely begun – with Southwestern Energy having begun the process of drilling its first well in Arkansas and having announced that it will seek a permit to begin drilling for a Brown Dense well in Claiborne Parish before the end of 2011.
Southwestern Energy has also announced that it has invested $150 million in leasing mineral rights for 460,000 acres to develop the play. Southwestern Energy recently applied to the Louisiana Office of Conservation for approval of an area of the Lower Smackover formation in Claiborne Parish near the Arkansas border as a designated unit for drilling.
Devon Energy has also announced that is has secured 40,000 acres in mineral leases for the Brown Dense and that the company intends to drill a test well for the play. Devon has already received a permit for a well targeting the deeper section of the Smackover in Morehouse Parish.
Devon is also active in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale, where the company has secured 250,000 acres of mineral leases and is in the process of drilling two wells in the shale. About half a dozen wells targeting the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale – long thought to contain substantial reserves, but considered uneconomical to reach through previous methods – are currently in the process of permitting or drilling.
"New exploration methods have changed the game for development of energy prospects in Louisiana and the nation, as we saw firsthand with the incredible upswing investment and economic activity in North Louisiana in 2008," said Angelle. "This is yet another opportunity for Louisiana to show that we can be an inviting and exciting province to do the business of finding and providing new sources of domestic energy that provide economic strength and opportunity for our state and our nation."
"With that exploration of the denser formations will come the need for water for hydraulic fracturing," said state Conservation Commissioner Jim Welsh.
Welsh said that companies drilling for the Brown Dense formation have informed the Office of Conservation they intend to use surface water and recycled water for their overall project needs, in conformance with guidelines and advisories issued in nearby areas experiencing stressed ground water conditions.
The anticipated Brown Dense area of development in Louisiana underlies the Sparta Aquifer, which is currently experiencing improved water levels after combined state and local efforts to manage ground water use in the area.
"We are still discouraging new high-volume users from using ground water in that area, and giving guidance on alternative sources for water," Welsh said.
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