Eight months after St. Tammany Parish slapped a stop-work order on a planned oil well site northeast of Mandeville, halting preparations by Helis Oil & Gas Co. to drill an exploratory well as a prelude to possible fracking, the parish lifted that order Thursday.
However, it’s unclear how soon work might crank up at the site.
The parish’s action followed a state appeals court’s ruling Wednesday that upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a suit brought by the parish and Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany.
Judge William Morvant, of the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, had rejected the plaintiffs’ claims that parish zoning laws should have prevented the state from issuing a drilling permit for the residentially zoned site and that state Commissioner of Conservation James Welch failed to properly consider the parish’s master plan before issuing the permit.
A three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge upheld Morvant’s decision, which had been suspended while the appeal worked its way through the courts.
Greg Beuerman, a Helis spokesman, said Thursday that the company has been informally notified that the stop-work order is being lifted but has not received written notification.
Until Helis has reviewed the written notice and is confident that all legal impediments to the project have been removed, he said, it’s premature to say what will happen and when.
Meanwhile, Concerned Citizens, the other plaintiff in the suit, argues that Morvant’s order suspending the effect of his ruling remains in place. Andrew Jacoby, the group’s attorney, said any action would be in violation of the lower court’s order “because the judgment doesn’t take effect for 30 days, within which we can appeal.”
Rick Franzo, president of Concerned Citizens, said the group will appeal the latest ruling to the state Supreme Court, with or without the parish’s cooperation.
What the parish intends to do is unclear.
Don Henderson, administrator for the Parish Council, said none of the members has put the matter on the agenda for the body’s April meeting.
Council President Marty Dean said he has not heard whether any council members want to discuss the matter next month. But he said there is not much support for spending more money on the issue.
Councilman Jake Groby, an outspoken opponent of the fracking project, said the council has said in the past that it will take the matter all the way to the state Supreme Court.
Groby said the council is waiting to hear from Blue Williams, the law firm handling the suit for the parish, but that he has not heard of any change in the parish’s determination to continue to the next level.
“That’s how I’ll vote,” he said.