Mississippi offshore drilling rules head for state court

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Sierra Club and the Gulf Restoration Network, who are fighting plans by the state to lease parts of the Mississippi Sound for natural gas drilling, will be heard Jan. 6 in Hinds County Chancery Court, according to their attorney.
Robert Wiygul, attorney for the two groups, said the Mississippi Development Authority’s decision to issue rules that allow oil and gas leasing in the Sound don’t take in account the impact on the tourism industry and natural resources.
He said MDA’s projections for economic impact are “woefully inadequate.” He said the proposed rules for oil and gas exploration, drilling and production will create a “greater risk for accidents like the BP oil disaster.”
An MDA spokesman declined to comment “given this is still pending litigation.”
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 say there’s natural gas under the Sound but little oil.
A year ago when it rejected a challenge to the drilling rules, MDA officials said the agency does not have jurisdiction over drilling. MDA said its responsibility is limited to the issuance of permits for seismic surveying and lease sales for the offshore blocks designated by the Legislature for mineral exploration.
“What MDA is saying here is we don’t really need to worry about what the impacts are going to be on tourism and on recreation and all those things,” Wiygul said. “We are just going to go ahead and do our leasing regulations and do our leasing and we will worry about those later. We don’t think that’s what the law is and we don’t think that’s a sensible way to proceed, whether you’re a government body or a business or an individual.”
Opponents also say MDA didn’t adequately respond to public comments, though MDA notes that it altered the proposed rules in response to comments.

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