Signing formalizes Richton oil reserve

U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman officially selected the salt domes near Richton for expansion of the strategic petroleum reserve on Wednesday.

Bodman and Gov. Haley Barbour signed the documents during at a ceremony at the University of Southern Mississippi. Government-owned oil stored at the site will be used in cases of national emergency or oil shortages.

"Today's designation of Richton, Miss., as the home of the fifth site of our nation's strategic petroleum reserve will make America stronger, and make her a more secure and prosperous nation," Bodman said in a statement.

The Richton reserve will hold about 16 percent of the 1 billion barrels of oil government officials want to store. There are 727 million barrels of oil held in the reserve already, good for about 60 days should there be a disruption of imports.

The program was established after the 1973-74 oil embargo and the reserves have been tapped occasionally, most recently last June when the Calcasieu ship channel near Lake Charles, La., was closed due to release of oil into the channel, a DOE news release said.

Oil is stored in salt caverns instead of tank facilities because it is up to 10 times cheaper. The other four strategic petroleum reserve sites are in Louisiana and Texas. Oil is already held in about 50 salt domes in Mississippi.

The Richton project is expected to bring 1,000 jobs to the area and will take about a decade to complete.

"This project will be an enormous economic boost for south Mississippi and will propel our state into the forefront in protecting and preserving vital national energy resources," said Barbour, who was joined at the ceremony by U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., and Richton Mayor Jimmy White.

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.

Two pipelines are planned. A 70-plus mile line to Jackson County on the Gulf Coast and a 110-mile line to Liberty, would require landowner approval and purchases for rights of way, officials said.