The potential of the New Albany Shale is still unproven, industry officials said.

With an eye on economic development, still relatively untapped shale natural gas deposits in Southern Illinois carry the potential to create $9.5 billion in new investment and 45,000 jobs, according to a report released Thursday by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

The state business organization touted the study by Illinois State University economics professor David Loomis as the “first of its kind” exclusively looking at the state’s shale potential. Loomis concentrated on the state’s New Albany Shale gas formation which underlies a substantial portion of southern Illinois.

Acknowledging that it is too early with exploratory drilling just commencing to quantify the play’s potential, Loomis said in the chamber study’s most bullish of three scenarios (low, medium and high), up to 47,312 new jobs could be created. Under the other two, 1,034 jobs or 10,337 jobs could be created in the low and medium job growth scenarios, respectively.

“The high scenario is similar to the historical employment impacts of shale gas measured in Arkansas (9,683), Pennsylvania (44,098), Texas (Eagle Ford only, 47,097) and Louisiana (57,637),” the report said.

Loomis was careful to note that the New Albany Shale is “still unproven” while concluding that the potential is for it to be “a significant creator of jobs” in Illinois. The study looked at the five-year ramp-up from the low scenario to the high one, and the latter would have the potential to create the multi-billion-dollar economic impact.

Earlier this year, an official with the Illinois Oil and Gas Association (IOGA) told NGI‘s Shale Daily that most of the exploratory activity was limited to the east side of the state in Wayne and Hamilton counties. At that time he was hoping to have more information on Illinois’ unconventional resource play by the end of this year (see Shale Daily, April 27).

At that time, nothing had been drilled, according to IOGA Executive Vice President Brad Richards, and he confirmed for NGI’s Shale Daily on Thursday that nothing had changed during the past six months. “We’re now talking about drilling starting the first quarter of next year; it was set back from this quarter,” Richards said.

In the meantime, IOGA is supportive of the state chamber’s report, and two new permits have been issued for exploratory work in the play. During a lame duck session of the state legislature in the first week of January, Richards said IOGA hopes to get a bill on hydraulic fracturing rules passed before the new legislature convenes the following week.

“We had what we thought was a good chemical disclosure bill in hand [earlier this year] that would strengthen well construction standards along with some other things, and it was passed out of the state Senate at the end of the regular session in May,” said Richards, but the bill ultimately “got stuck” in the lower House in the Assembly where legislators and environmental groups wanted “a more comprehensive bill.”

Finally, with the state’s troubled budget and economy, most of the major business interests, such as the chamber and manufacturers’ association, are pushing for more incentives to kick start oil/gas development in the southern end of Illinois.