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Environmental Groups Oppose Gov. Bryant’s Push for Drilling Near Mississippi’s Barrier Islands

By Rhonda Miller | Published 25 Jan 2012 09:15pm | comments
Terese Collins, of Gulf Islands Conservancy, and Louie Miller, of the Mississippi Sierra Club, point out potential drilling sites near the state's barrier islands

A coalition of environmental groups says drilling for gas and oil would be an ecological and economic loss for the state. But as MPB’s Rhonda Miller reports, Mississippi’s new governor is pushing to get the drilling started.

In his State of the State address, Governor Phil Bryant said Mississippi’s offshore resources, mainly natural gas, could produce desperately-needed jobs and revenue.

"To enhance and grow our energy economy, we should look no further than our own Gulf of Mexico," said Bryant. "We are proceeding on a thoughtful, steady course of offshore energy recovery in a limited area, primarily southeast of Mississippi’s barrier islands."

On the Gulfport dock for Ship Island Excursions, Captain Louis Skrmetta says drilling rigs proposed for one mile from the barrier islands, could keep away tourists who come for the undisturbed natural surroundings.

"Last year our company carried 43,000 people to Ship Island. In addition, there are probably at least 20,000 to 30,000 boats that visit the island each year," says Skrmetta. "The islands are the last undeveloped barrier islands in the northern Gulf. There’s no other place like them - very, very special ecosystem."

Skrmetta and other members of the coalition released a report on the economic viability of drilling. The report, done by a Boston consultant, says the potential loss of tourism dollars because of oil rigs would wipe out any income from drilling.

However, Governor Bryant said revenue from the drilling would be used for one of the state’s priorities.

"It is likely to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for Mississippi’s educational trust fund," Bryant said. "This funding is critical to our children’s future."

Gulf Islands Conservancy President Terese Colllins has heard all this before.

"If this is for education then I ask, ' What happened to all the casino money? We gave up water bottoms and wetlands for casino development and that money was going to education.  Why are we still on the bottom?' ”

The Mississippi Development Authority will hold two public meetings on proposed regulations for gas and oil drilling –  today in Jackson and tomorrow in Gautier.  The public can submit comments through January 31.

 



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