Plans by McMoRan Exploration to drill a 30,000-foot well in South Louisiana could herald a new era of drilling at depths greater than 22,000 feet in the state, said Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Secretary Scott Angelle.

McMoRan recently acquired exploratory rights on about 68,000 gross acres in Iberia, St. Martin, Assumption and Iberville parishes. The company has said it plans to start drilling the 30,000-foot well on its Highlander prospect during the second half of the year.

The well will target Eocene, Paleocene and Cretaceous objectives below the salt weld, the company said in a second quarter earnings announcement. McMoRan said it will complete the well and hold a 72% interest. Energy XXI and Moncrief Offshore are expected to participate.

The company also is a partner with Chevron on the ongoing Lineham Creek ultra-deep well in eastern Cameron Parish. Drilling there is past 19,000 feet with a target depth of 29,000 feet. Both projects would beat the previous record depth in the state by nearly a mile, according to DNR.

McMoRan estimates that the Highlander, Lineham Creek and other ultra-deep potential prospects it has identified onshore in South Louisiana in an area from Cameron Parish to Lafourche Parish potentially hold the equivalent of 30 Tcfe, according to DNR.

"McMoRan has established itself as one of the pioneers in the new frontier of energy exploration in South Louisiana in the past several years, finding oil and natural gas at depths that were not considered feasible for energy production until that company found a way to do it," Angelle said.

Angelle said the potential to draw investment and activity in ultra-deep energy exploration was a primary driver for DNR recommending a new law during the recent legislative session that addressed the Office of Conservation's regulation of ultra-deep oil and natural gas wells. The law passed by the legislature defines "ultra-deep" wells as those drilled to tap into reservoirs at 22,000 feet or deeper and includes provisions outlining rules for how drilling units can be established at that depth and determining the size of those units.

"The industry expressed its faith in Louisiana's energy potential and governmental leaders by investing in a handful of ultra-deep prospects in recent years without those rules in place, to prove their science was sound," Angelle said. "Companies are now seeing that faith being rewarded in both new energy prospects and the state's action to ensure fair and effective regulation..."

©Copyright 2012 Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news report may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in any form, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.