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WAYNEDALE WOODS AND WATERS

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Oil and gas wells are being drilled in Indiana at a pace that hasn't been seen for at least 15 years, according to Herschel McDivitt, director of the DNR Division of Oil and Gas.

In 2006, the division issued more than 450 drilling permits, a number that he said he expects to steadily increase during the next several years, citing higher prices for crude oil and natural gas as the primary reason for the increase.

"This is an exciting time to be in the oil and gas business," McDivitt said. "While much of the interest is in drilling for crude oil, a growing number of wells are being drilled for natural gas, especially in the southwestern part of Indiana where companies are actively developing wells in the New Albany Shale formation, an unconventional gas PLAY? with significant potential to produce steady volumes of natural gas over a period of 15 or more years.

"Wells are also being drilled in northern Indiana in areas that have never seen oil or gas activity according to the division."

Along with the increase in drilling applications has come a significant number of questions from landowners who have been approached by companies seeking to obtain leases from the landowners allowing them to drill on their properties.

"Many landowners are unfamiliar with the process of leasing their land for oil and gas and are seeking more information about oil and gas operations and looking to find answers to their questions," McDivitt said.

Partnering with the Purdue Extension and the Indiana Geological Survey, the Division of Oil and Gas has participated in a number of workshops throughout the state this past year. The workshops are targeted specifically at landowners and attempt to provide useful information that landowners should consider as they look to lease their property for oil and gas production.

To better serve the public and the oil and gas industry, the Division of Oil and Gas is announcing changes within its organizational structure.

Jim AmRhein will be responsible for all inspections and compliance-related functions within the division's program. Previously, AmRhein was in charge of all permitting functions, as well as inspections and enforcement duties in central and northern Indiana.

The permitting functions have now become the responsibility of the new Technical Services Section, headed by Mona Nemecek, who has been with the division since 1994 as a petroleum geologist.

Additionally, the division will add a new position in the Orphaned and Abandoned Well Program headed by Mary Estrada, assistant director for Orphaned and Abandoned Wells.

To learn more about the oil and gas industry in Indiana or the Division of Oil and Gas and its programs, call (317) 232-4055 or visit www.in.gov/dnr/dnroil. More information about Indiana's oil and gas industry can be found the Indiana Oil and Gas Association's Web site, www.inoga.org/index.htm.

 

OFFICERS BUST CAVIAR RING

Most would not view the Hoosier homeland as the base of an illegal six-figure-per-year seafood operation but that's what Indiana Conservation Officers found on the tributaries of the Ohio River, in Vevay.

Undercover officers posing as illegal fishermen for 1.5 years infiltrated the ring, the members of which were illegally harvesting and selling "caviar" from the river's paddlefish.

Twelve arrests were made today on a combined 39 felony charges.A charge of "illegal sale of a wild animal" was included in each individual's list of charges. Officers also confiscated four boats, three vehicles, processing equipment, fishing equipment and records. Illicit drugs and large sums of cash were also taken from some of those arrested.

Individuals charged included Albert Collins, Darrin Turner, Jerry Turner, Jonathon Turner, Keith Hodge, Larry "Pete" Barnes, Lou Rebholz, Lisa Mullins, Roger Kinman, Willard Napier, Gary McGinnis and Timothy Micah Sanger. All are southern Indiana residents.

Technically, caviar is sturgeon eggs; however, there is a shortage of sturgeon in the Caspian Sea, the main source for the culinary delicacy. That has created a lucrative worldwide market for paddlefish eggs, which have a similar taste, look and consistency to the real thing.

One paddlefish can yield $600 to $800 in eggs. Annual income for illegal harvesting is $100,000 to $400,000 per year per fisherman.

Paddlefish can be legally harvested by commercial fishermen in the main stream of the Ohio but all tributaries, where much of the fishing is taking place, is protected because of the heavy concentrations of spawning fish there.

Violators use snag hooks and nets to catch paddlefish, which are found mostly in the large river systems of the Mississippi River Basin. The fish are long-lived (males, 7-9 years; females, 10-12) and reach large sizes. The Indiana State Record weighed 106 pounds, 4 ounces.

Paddlefish are not believed to be endangered; however, due to their elusive nature, researching them is difficult. Paddlefish numbers are believed to be dropping, although the fish frequently occur in large groups, especially below dams, and are highly mobile. This gives the impression that they are abundant when in fact they may not be, according to Bill James, state chief of fisheries.

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