Richton chosen for strategic petroleum reserve

Published 5:26 pm Friday, December 8, 2006

The U.S. Department of Energy has chosen a Mississippi salt dome for the strategic petroleum reserve, a project with a price tag of at least $1 billion, U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering’s office said Thursday.

The reserve will use the Richton Salt Dome, Pickering said in a statement. He said the project would create about 1,000 new jobs in Perry County in southeast Mississippi.

The reserve would hold about 16 percent of the 1 billion barrels of oil government officials want to store underground for use in an emergency, the congressman said. He was joined in the announcment by Gov. Haley Barbour and U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Trent Lott, both R-Miss.

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“The strategic petroleum reserve is critical for our nation’s energy security and our growing economy,” Pickering said. “Abundant, affordable energy is the lifeblood of our economy and we saw the vulnerability of the entire nation to energy shortages when (Hurricane)Katrina hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

Barbour said the project “will be an enormous economic boost for south Mississippi and propels our state into the forefront in protecting and preserving vital national energy resources.”

Five sites have been under consideration for the plan to store 160 million barrels of crude oil.

Richton was one of two sites in Mississippi. The Energy Department also examined the Bruinsburg salt dome near the Mississippi River just south of Vicksburg as a possible location. Other possible sites were in Louisiana and Texas.

The Richton site is located on 1,500 acres off Mississippi 42 west of Richton. The site was considered in the late 1970s for storage of nuclear waste and in the early 1990s for petroleum.

The strategic reserve decision was expected earlier this fall, but consideration of the Bruinsburg site set the schedule back, officials said.

There already are about 50 salt domes used for petroleum storage in Mississippi, state officials said.

Under the strategic petroleum reserve plan emergency crude is stored in salt caverns, said David Johnson, DOE project manager for the Richton site, in a September interview.

He said the caverns offer security and are the most affordable means of storage, costing up to 10 times less than tanks and 20 times less than hard-rock mines.

Construction time is estimated at nine to 10 years and two pipelines from Pascagoula will be built.

There is currently 727 million barrels of oil held in the reserve for emergencies, Pickering’s statement said. That’s good for about 60 days should there be a disruption of imports.

As co-chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Pickering helped pass the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that included an amendment calling for the creation of additional storage facilities.