Drill Bill Undergoes Changes

The proposal that could allow gas drilling in the Mississippi Sound has made its way through committees in both the House and Senate.

"If this happens, we will have oil and gas rigs within view of Highway 90 as we drive down the beach, as we live and play along Highway 90 and the beach. And the same will be true with the offshore islands," Attorney Henry Laird says.

Laird is very familiar with efforts to bring gas drilling to the Mississippi Sound. As a member of the Commission of Environmental Quality in 1996, Laird voted against a Texas company's proposal to drill for oil and gas wells off Horn Island.

"Because of the outcry that arose from people on the coast, businesses, citizens, it was rejected."

Now a new bill proposes to transfer the control of offshore leases from the Department of Environmental Quality to the state development authority.

"Well, of course the oil and gas industry wants the environmental regulatory authorities removed, that way there's no environmental oversight or if there is it's certainly not by the agency that ought to be overseeing it."

Sierra Club member Beck Gillette says drilling raises several concerns.

"There's also the potential when they drill those wells they use mercury contaminated drilling fluids and some of those are disposed of right around the rigs so then we have issues with mercury contamination."

Gillette is also worried about where the drilling would take place.

"This would go right up on Cat Island. Cat Island has now been added to the Gulf Islands National Seashore but it doesn't have the same one mile protections that the other two, other three islands have. It would make no sense to me to spend millions of dollars to purchase Cat Island and then turn around and put a drilling rig right on the shoreline or close to the shoreline."

While the House is expected to vote on the bill next week, Senator Billy Hewes says there is not a lot of support from the coastal delegation for any kind of gas exploration inside the barrier islands.

The Mississippi Oil and Gas Board is taking no position this issue. Director Walter Boone says drilling companies must apply for a permit from his agency after getting a lease from the state.