LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe is reconsidering his support for a proposed increase in the severance tax on natural gas, his spokesman said Wednesday.

LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe is reconsidering his support for a proposed increase in the severance tax on natural gas, his spokesman said Wednesday.

The governor’s re-evaluation stems from concerns about how increasing the tax increase might impact potential oil and natural gas exploration in the southern part of the state, Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said.

“He does have some concerns about not wanting to put us at a competitive disadvantage and is re-evaluating the issue,” DeCample said.

Former gas executive Sheffield Nelson has proposed an initiated act that would raise the severance tax on natural gas from 5 percent to 7 percent, and exclude current exemptions.

Nelson’s supporters are now trying to gather at least 62,507 signatures by July 6 to qualify the measure for the general election ballot.

Beebe said said in October that he would probably vote for the proposed severance tax increase, but that he would not campaign for it.

DeCample said the governor is now reconsidering that position because of interest by several companies in the oil and natural gas reserves under parts of southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana, known as the Smackover Brown Dense oil formation.

Houston-based Southwestern Energy is expected to announce soon some test results in the shale formation. The governor “still hasn’t made up his mind one way or the other, but he does have some concerns given the developments in South Arkansas,” DeCample said. “The developments give him new concerns about potentially putting Arkansas at a disadvantage because of this potential exploration that is about half in Arkansas and half in Louisiana.”

Most of the $250 million that Nelson estimates his proposal would raise annually would be earmarked for state and local roads.