Drilling on Mississippi's Horizon?

Drilling on Mississippi's Horizon?

Rigs and production platforms off the coast of Alabama's Dauphin Island. Photo courtesy of Harold Wright.

Unlike in neighboring states, Mississippi waters have remained mostly free from oil and gas activities like seismic exploration, drilling and production. With a few exceptions, these activities have been restricted by the state. Back in 2005, concerned residents, organizations, and businesses successfully defeated an effort to open state waters to drilling. However, in December 2011, the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) announced a nearly identical plan to open up areas of Mississippi waters to exploration, drilling and production. If allowed to move forward, residents and tourists could soon see 4-6 story rigs and drilling platforms from the barrier islands, and most towns along the coast.

A Bad Economic Gamble

The state’s plan to open waters to oil and gas activities doesn’t make economic sense. Proponents of drilling point to the economic benefits, but MDA estimates that Mississippi has virtually no oil reserves, and around 350 billion cubic feet of natural gas reserves – a relatively small quantity of natural gas compared to Alabama and other surrounding states. Meanwhile, in 2013 visitors spent $1.8 billion in the three coastal counties! Just a 3% drop in coastal tourism would completely erase any financial gains in state and local revenue from opening up state waters to oil and gas activity. Check out a full economic report here.

A Pristine Natural Environment Threatened

sculpture ms coastGenerations of families have relied on the health of Mississippi’s coast and the Sound to earn a living, enjoy recreational pursuits and appreciate the natural beauty. And the state’s wilderness barrier islands are among the only undeveloped barrier islands in the United States - forming part of Gulf Islands National Seashore, a national park. Take a trip out to one of the islands, and you’re likely to see dolphins frolicking alongside your vessel, shrimp boats trawling the coastal waters, manta rays hunting along the water’s edge and least tern mothers protecting their nests in the beach sand.

Seismic exploration could threaten the health of marine mammals like dolphins, and temporarily scare away abundant recreational and commercial fish populations. And if drilling is allowed to move forward, this beautiful landscape could be marred by rigs and platforms on the horizon, more pipelines and industrial ship traffic, pollution from drilling muds and leaks and, of course, a greater risk of catastrophes like the BP disaster. In Louisiana, the Coast Guard responds to an average of over 4,000 oil and chemical spills a year. Releases of toxic gases like hydrogen sulfide into the air are also a constant threat in areas like Alabama's Dauphin Island where natural gas production has been going on for decades.

Keep It 12 Miles South

Right now, Gulf Restoration Network is working with our partners in the 12 Miles South Coalition, a coast-wide group of business and community leaders, to make sure that oil and gas exploration, drilling and production is restricted to areas twelve miles south of Mississippi’s barrier islands. We scored a big victory in June of 2014 when a Hinds County judge blocked MDA's plan to offer gas leases in state waters. This decision was in response to a lawsuit filed by Gulf Restoration Network and the Sierra Club. Despite this victory, we must remain vigilant as MDA could reintroduce its proposal at any time.  

For more information, contact Andrew Whitehurst at 601-954-7236,  or andrew@healthygulf.org

Additional Resources

Draft Offshore Seismic Testing and Leasing Rules: The proposed rules for oil and gas testing and leasing released by the state.

Drilling by the Numbers, Again: 2012 Report by Dr. Jeffrey Bounds on the economics of opening state waters to oil and gas activities. Or check out an Executive Summary of the report here.

Hinds County Chancery Court Decision on GRN and Sierra Club's Lawsuit 

Map of Proposed Areas for Exploration and Leasing

Tourism to Gulf Islands National Seashore Creates $39 million in Economic Benefit for Mississippi Gulf Coast: National Park Service release about the economic importance of the islands for Mississippi.