Saturday, June 02, 2012

Oil Leasing Boom Boosting Mount Vernon Occupancy

According to oil and gas officials by way of a Southern Illinois lawmaker the flurry of oil and gas leasing in the east half of the region in preparation for a potentially massive oil boom has already boosted occupancy rates in Mount Vernon. Neighboring Wayne County and Hamilton County are the current hot spots for leasing after three companies started in Saline County last year.

State Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, passed along the tidbit Thursday during the last day of the spring session in what was either the second or third interview of the day. A surprise move by a liberal college-town representative change an all-parties agreed upon fracking bill into one that would cause a two-year moratorium on the use of hydraulic fracturing, a technique that's been used for more than 60 years in Illinois.

Phelps and region's other lawmakers of both political persuasions blocked consideration of the bill and possibly saved hundreds if not thousands of potential jobs coming to the region. Fracking and horizontal drilling is expected to begin this summer. If they find oil in the New Albany Shale formation about a mile under the surface like they have in the Bakken formation up in North Dakota all bets are off for the region.

My story quotes Phelps as describing it as a potential $100 billion industry. I'm pretty sure that was with a "b" and not an "m" in the figures. Already oil and gas officials briefed lawmakers Thursday about the current impact of the potential boom.

Phelps noted that right now he was told, "(We) have 200 land men in Southern Illinois representing 10 companies. Hotel occupancies are up 20 percent in Mount Vernon alone."

My story from April talks more about the history of fracking in the region.

Southern Illinois lawmakers aren't the only ones who have been briefed about the potential for the region.

Even U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois who has been vocal in his support of new federal regulations targeting the use of coal expressed support for fracking during his visit to Harrisburg earlier [in April].

"You know we're going to ask all the right questions because there are legitimate concerns, but we've found it can be done safely if it is carefully regulated. We don't want in any way to contaminate water supplies in the process. We don't want to put anyone's public health in danger. We just want it done in a thoughtful careful manner that will call for some government oversight and regulation to make it work," Durbin explained.

...the Democratic senator would rather see the regulations take place at the federal level...

"If it can be done in that way it's a source of energy that we never dreamed of that's just sitting there waiting to be tapped," said Durbin who remained coy at giving an exact value to its potential, only pointing to the oil boom taking place in the Bakkan shale formation in North Dakota...

So how big is the Bakken boom? Well, first, Mount Vernon's higher occupancy rates may only be the beginning.

Williston, N.D., is the center of the new oil boom. KPAX-TV reported May 8 that Williston saw 10 hotels open last year with six or seven ready to open later his summer. At one point the Holiday Inn was charging $250 a night.

When I wrote my story quoting Durbin, North Dakota was the nation's third-largest oil-producing state. Since then on May 15, the Wall Street Journal reported North Dakota has now surpassed Alaska as the nation's second largest oil-producing state. Only Texas produces more oil.