We've been monitoring this story all year at THV 11 News: Oil exploration in Companies, like Southwestern Energy, are trying to tap oil from the bottom part of a rock formation called Brown Dense.
Probably the biggest difference since our May report was that things on the Arkansas side of this exploration are slowing down. Columbia County business leaders said that there's much less truck traffic around, and the company leasing land for Southwestern Energy is gone. But, they're not discouraged yet, saying it's just a waiting game right now, and so does one man on the ground following this story very closely.
"Usually I check it once a day to see if anyone has posted anything," Bill Dailey said.
Sitting at his desk in his rural Columbia County home near Emerson, Bill Dailey keeps tabs on the Facebook page he runs called The Brown Dense Report.
"I try to keep up with the news, particularly with Southwestern Energy since they are the primary mover and shaker in the Brown Dense play, and if something significant happens, I'll post it on the Facebook page," Dailey said.
He's been following the Brown Dense story for a year now. The story centers on a dense, thick rock like this. It can be "fracked" for oil thousands of feet underground.
"This is the Garrett well, which is just below the state-line in Louisiana," Dailey said, referring to a picture he posted on his The Brown Dense Report.
The Garrett well is Southwestern Energy's second test site, now off line according to company reports.
"Everybody is kind of in a wait and see period. Is this play going to work or not?" Dailey said.
The nearest well site to Dailey's home is just beyond a locked gate in Columbia County. It's called the Roberson Well from Southwestern Energy. The company would neither let us bring our cameras beyond the locked gate nor do any interviews for this story, but they did let us listen to a recent teleconference call on the company's third quarter earnings
and shed some light on its Brown Dense performance.
"Moving onto new ventures, we've drilled and completed 6 wells in our Lower Smackover Brown Dense play in Southern Arkansas and Northern Louisiana," Southwestern Energy Chief Operating Officer William Way said.
The company's six wells are marked on this map here. The only one in Arkansas, the Roberson well is also offline and there's been no official mention of its future so far. The current activity centers on Union Parish, Louisiana, where the company plans to start producing and selling oil soon from two wells.
"We'll put the two wells that Bill talked about on production this month, by January we will have 2-plus months of production and when we add that to testing we had earlier, we'll be able to figure out the shape of those curves," Dailey said.
CEO Steven Mueller says getting longer-term production data is key to moving forward with Brown Dense. In last week's teleconference, he referenced one benchmark, saying they'd need 425 barrels of oil a day for a $12 million well to make it profitable. Previous testing results THV 11 News obtained in company reports showed 24-hour peak producing rates, ranging from 103 barrels a day to 421.
Back with Dailey and his Facebook page, he's says there's been more interest in the Louisiana wells with higher pressures underground, which help release the oil better.
"We're hopeful that will expand and make it a larger play for the whole region down here but who knows," Dailey said.
It's a waiting game for now with Dailey watching out for his next "post."
"As long as the probability is there that it will work is not zero, I will be monitoring," Dailey said.
One other piece of news to share is that Southwestern cut its total acreage in the Brown Dense region by about 60,000 acres since August. Mueller said they dropped some land in the northwest corner of the area but he didn't explain why in the recent teleconference.
Mueller also said they're still fine-tuning their fracking methods in order to better cover the Brown Dense zone and call this whole thing "a go."
While things have slowed down on the Arkansas side, the President of the Magnolia Chamber of Commerce tells THV 11 News that her office still gets some inquiries from companies looking to build apartments or lease land to park trucks. You can hear more of her interview on the community business outlook under this story.