One of the ripples from Monday’s court skirmish over a controversial proposed fracking well in St. Tammany Parish is turning into a wave.
A spokesman for Helis Oil & Gas Co. said Thursday that parish inspectors have been invited to visit the site and verify that the work going on there is within the narrow scope the parish permitted in revising its stop-work order issued earlier this week.
Meanwhile, members of the activist group Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany have requested to be allowed to tour the site after the parish — which on Monday ordered the company to stop all work at the site — eased that prohibition somewhat Wednesday, saying Helis would be allowed to complete groundwater and air monitoring stations already under construction.
The parish’s on-site inspection is expected to happen quickly and the results will be shared with all interested parties, Helis spokesman Greg Beuerman said.
It has been a turbulent week for work at the drilling site, located in a wooded area about a mile east of La. 1088 and north of Interstate 12.
Helis subcontractors had been working at the site for about a month to improve the private road that leads to the 3-acre drilling site.
But on Monday, a state district judge in Baton Rouge granted a parish request to file a suspensive appeal of his earlier ruling that the parish could not use its zoning ordinances to prevent Helis from constructing its well site. The suspensive appeal sets aside the effects of that ruling by Judge William Morvant while the parish takes the issue to the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal.
Opponents of Helis’ well — including Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, which is a party to the suit before Morvant — quickly hailed Monday’s ruling and said it meant Helis had to cease all work at the site. Helis disagreed and insisted work would continue.
But later that afternoon, parish officials ordered the company to stop all work at the site. Helis attorney Matt Jones called the order illegal but said the company would comply while it considered its options.
Then on Wednesday, in response to a request from the company, parish officials said they would allow Helis to complete work on the groundwater and air monitoring stations at the site.
A Helis spokesman said state law prohibits water wells from being left open and unsecured and the company wanted to complete construction on wells at the site. The parish considered that a “reasonable request,” a spokesman said Wednesday.
But the parish’s move upset anti-fracking activists, and an attorney for Concerned Citizens asked Helis to allow members of the group to inspect the site to verify that work is being done only on the wells and air monitoring station.
In response, Helis offered to let parish inspectors onto the site and said they could share their findings with anyone who asks.
That might not be enough, said Andrew Jacoby, an attorney for Concerned Citizens.
“All we want to do is verify that what they are doing out there is not moving forward with the project,” Jacoby said, calling the group’s action a “Reaganesque ‘trust but verify’ ” move.
Jacoby said the group is not accusing Helis of violating the parish’s order but that it would like to see for itself what is going on so it does not have to go back to the judge to complain.
“This will help us avoid litigation,” he said.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.