Helis plans to begin drilling at St. Tammany site by end of the month _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- A noise monitoring station, photographed June 19, 2015, has been installed by Helis Oil and Gas near Louisiana 1088 and Interstate 12 near Mandeville to monitor noise from their fracking operation.

Helis Oil & Gas Co. will be allowed to continue installing environmental monitoring equipment at its St. Tammany Parish drilling site despite a Monday order to cease all work, a parish spokesman said Wednesday.

Following a ruling by a Baton Rouge state judge Monday morning, St. Tammany officials ordered the company to stop construction at the 3-acre drilling pad and the road leading to it.

A Helis spokesman said Monday that the company would comply with the order even though company officials felt it was illegal.

But on Wednesday, parish officials issued a statement saying the company would be allowed to complete the installation of air and groundwater monitoring stations. That work is expected to be finished within two weeks, parish spokesman Ronnie Simpson said.

Simpson said Helis had requested permission to continue the work and the parish considered it a “reasonable request.”

A spokesman for Helis said the testing equipment the company is installing involves digging water wells, which cannot be left open and unsecured, according to state law. So the company asked for permission to complete several wells planned for the site, which is situated off of La. 1088 northeast of Mandeville.

In the meantime, Mandeville Mayor Donald Villere this week also took some rear-guard action against the controversial well project. On Tuesday, he ended a contract with an oilfield supply company that was buying water from the city to help supply workers at the Helis site.

None of the water was going to be used in actually drilling for oil. Drilling hasn’t begun yet, and the state Department of Natural Resources has stipulated that the company can use only surface water from private ponds for that purpose.

Villere, who has spoken out against the well, said that as soon as he learned the city was selling water to a company associated with the project, he ordered the deal terminated.

The city routinely sells water to construction companies at a higher rate than it charges residential customers, Villere said.

Nevertheless, Councilman Rick Danielson, who is challenging Villere for the mayor’s job in next spring’s election, said the mayor owes the council an explanation.

“Are we selling to other companies or to businesses outside the city?” Danielson asked. “What is the city’s policy in regard to such matters?”

Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.