Policy: Environment & Energy

Mississippi agency comments on coastal drilling rules

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BILOXI, Miss. — Mississippi marine resources agency officials said the rules and regulations that the Mississippi Development Authority adopted this year regarding seismic testing in Mississippi waters do not conflict with its own process for managing coastal resources.

The Department of Marine Resources on Tuesday released a letter agency director Jamie Miller sent to the MDA.

Under the proposed rules, drilling would be limited to areas seaward of the barrier islands, but closer to shore in the eastern edge of Mississippi waters near the Alabama state line. Experts have said there's natural gas under the Mississippi Sound but little oil.

Miller's staff reviewed the proposed rules.

"The rules and regulations that the Mississippi Development Authority adopted this year regarding seismic testing in Mississippi waters do not conflict with our process for managing coastal resources," Miller said. "However, to be clear, this agency will examine all proposals that include seismic and/or leasing activity."

Miller said it is important that MDMR continues to review requests for seismic activity on a case-by-case basis.

"This review is disappointing. The Mississippi Coastal Program clearly states that decisions made by DMR should encourage preservation of natural and scenic qualities in the coastal area," said Helen Rose Patterson with the Gulf Restoration Network. "Clearly 4-6 story gas rigs visible from the shoreline and within a mile of the barrier islands do not preserve natural and scenic qualities."

On Dec. 13, members of the 12 Miles South Coalition delivered a letter signed by more than 40 businesses and organizations to Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, MDA and MDMR opposing oil and gas activities within 12 miles south of the barrier islands.

"It's absolutely unacceptable for the Mississippi Development Authority to rush to sell off Mississippi's mineral assets without looking at how oil and gas development will impact coastal tourism," said Patterson. "Business and tourism leaders are clearly concerned about how gas rigs on the horizon will impact their bottom line."

MDA does not have jurisdiction over drilling. It is limited to issuing permits for seismic surveying and lease sales for the offshore blocks designated by the Legislature for mineral exploration.

The authority contends offshore drilling and exploration will not harm the environment or tourism. The state has an estimated 350 billion cubic feet of natural gas offshore and stands to receive up to $500 million as it is pumped out, MDA officials said.

Casino operators and other business leaders gave up their protests when a 2004 law was written to secure protection for most near-shore water.

The 2004 law limited oil and gas exploration to about 186,000 acres, about 38 percent of Mississippi's offshore waters. The leas4e areas are confined to sites about a mile south of the barrier islands.

The Sierra Club and the Gulf Restoration Network have filed suit against the drilling rules in Hinds County Chancery Court. A hearing is set for Jan. 6.

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