MAGNOLIA, Ark. (KTHV) - It's a call our country hears about all the time nowadays, lifting our dependence on foreign oil and using our own natural resources for domestic energy.
One answer is starting to play out in southern Arkansas where companies are exploring the potential for oil far beyond the days of the region's boom times. In a THV Extra, we take a closer look at the Brown Dense area with THV's Max Seigle, who recently took a trip to Columbia County.
This time we wanted to go down to the area and see for ourselves what's going on and the impact of this oil exploration on Columbia County. It's an area that has survived on natural resources for years with oil now getting a possible second chance at a comeback.
On a warm, sunny day, you'll often find J.L. Jean relaxing on his patio at home in the tiny town of Atlanta in Columbia County. He was born there 84 years ago.
"I wouldn't live any place else, I sure wouldn't," Jean said.
It's a place crawling with pastoral beauty and facing a future with a possible return to the past.
"Never in my life did I thought I'd see it again, there'd been a lot of drilling back here in the 1950's and the 1960's but all the drilling they had in this area were dry holes," Jean said.
Jean's talking about energy companies that are setting up shop again to test drilling for oil. They're concentrating in southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana, looking to tap the base of a rock formation called Brown Dense. And folks like Jean are taking part.
"I think about 280 acres is what I wound up leasing," Jean said. "I'm hoping there's promise but we don't get any information from them at all, all we read is what's in the newspaper."
Jean's leasing his mineral rights to Southwestern Energy, which has three wells in the region. The Columbia County site is known as the Roberson Well. We couldn't get in because the company says that it's too early to see or talk about the exploration. But a look at May financial reports shows quote "encouraging brown dense results" overall and approximately 540,000 total acres of land leased so far.
"We have just a casual friendship, we've gotten to know them a little bit," Cammie Hambrice said.
Hambrice is the Executive Director of the Magnolia Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development. She says Southwestern Energy started leasing land through a contractor in spring of 2010.
"You know we found ourselves in the fall not having any available rental properties, when you move 50 people to a town the size of Magnolia that has to have an impact," Hambrice said.
Oil drilling workers are filling up the area's housing and more.
"Their people stay in our hotels, they eat in our restaurants, they buy things here, they have work done on their trucks here, it branches out further than people realize," Hambrice said.
But it's an impact that's not without its challenges.
"We had citizens who've had 15 to 20 trucks down their road a day, they're large trucks and so that has to have a negative impact on the county roads," Hambrice said.
Hambrice says that they'll address that, sitting down face-to-face with these companies and developing mutual agreements.
"We've talked about them buying the supplies to fix the roads and the county doing the labor, those kinds of things," Hambrice said.
More housing is also in the works for the growing workforce in the community.
"We have a company that's coming in that's going to build some apartments, 144-unit apartment complex," Hambrice said.
They're taking care of the growing pains with a re-emerging industry. Landowners like Jean, with his signing bonus, says he's getting $300 an acre to lease his mineral rights. It's netting him and his family $84,000 to start.
"Well I'm not going to change from the way my lifestyle is right now, I'm enjoying life," Jean said.
But he admits financial gain drove his decision and he's already spent some of the money.
"I just put in me a walk-in shower," Jean says with a laugh.
It's making his birthplace home even more comfortable while Jean and his family wait and see about that future with a possible return to the past.
Now as for details on the oil production so far, we gleaned a few numbers from some published company announcements online. A February report from Southwestern Energy's well in Columbia County mentioned a high of 103 barrels of oil over a 24-hour period for a test well.
Cabot Oil and Gas reported in late April a peak production rate of 206 barrels per day at a Union County test site. They also didn't respond to an inquiry for comment on this story.
Hambrice says that it will mark almost a year for many of the test wells by the end of this year, so we may hear something then on production rates. She also added one other plus here: an area well service company getting work on the exploration that's put about 50 people to work.
There's an oil boom going on in North Dakota right now and we understand companies are tapping a similar formation for oil that we're testing here in Arkansas. Hambrice says that she's talked with her counterparts in North Dakota. And they tell her that they were not completely prepared when the boom hit and are now dealing with problems in infrastructure and housing. Hambrice says, while they are moving forward on preps in Columbia County, they may experience the same problems if a boom takes off here sooner than later.