The U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers has granted the wetlands permit that Helis Oil & Gas needed to drill a vertical exploratory well in rural St. Tammany Parish, LA.

"Helis has built specific environmental protections into the project that will ensure safe and clean operations protective of health and the environment and in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations," said Helis President David Kerstein. "This process has been transparent, open and exhaustive. It has worked as it should have, with results we have anticipated for quite some time based upon the sound evidence presented in the administrative record."

On June 4, Helis obtained the required number of mitigation credits to secure the wetlands permit, the company said. It will now move to implement its "over and above commitments" not normally required under existing regulations, including erection of sound baffles around the 3.2-acre well pad site, and placement of air monitoring, noise monitoring and groundwater monitoring systems and devices at the site and strategic locations in the area, the company said. Helis also plans to improve the private road leading to the well site.

The St. Tammany Parish government and local citizens sued the state's Department of Natural Resources, which approved the project, to block the drilling. They based their argument on local zoning regulations but were thwarted in state District Court in April. An appeal is expected. According to local press reports, Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany might seek a restraining order to prevent drilling operations while the appeal is pending.

More than 15 other exploratory wells have been drilled within a 15-mile radius of the proposed well site over the past several decades. Oil and gas fracturing operations below the same aquifer, just across the parish line in Tangipahoa Parish, have been executed without incident and to the economic benefit of that parish and the state of Louisiana, according to the company.

In the months leading up to the Corps' final permitting decision, Helis has proceeded with implementing other commitments made to parish officials, business and civic groups and residents, including hosting an initial training session for local first responders, the company said. It also began obtaining voluntary water quality samples from private water wells in the area in advance of drilling activities.

"We are enthusiastic about taking these next steps toward drilling the exploratory well within the scope of our federal and state permits and in accordance with the highest standards in our industry," Kerstein said.