Group demonstrates against drilling outside energy summit

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Gulf Coast Energy Summit attracted a group of protesters Monday morning.

Members of the "12 Miles South Coalition" and others held a demonstration across the street from the energy summit.

The protest group shared a strong message about "no drilling" near the barrier islands.

"We're here today because of the energy summit across the street," said Captain Louis Skrmetta, one of the leaders of "12 Miles South" and the owner of Ship Island Excursions.

Protesters shared a message of caution and concern.

"We're out here saying, 'We don't want you ruining our tourism for your oil.' Some people haven't forgotten the BP spill," said Steve Shepard, as he clutched his protest sign.

Group leaders said they're not opposed to offshore drilling per se. They just want it far enough away from the barrier islands.

"Allowing industrial activities such as oil and gas exploration near a popular natural attraction like a beach or scenic area will result in a negative impact on visits to the host community, there's no question about it," said Skrmetta.

The group's news conference was briefly interrupted by Biloxi police, who reminded leaders about the rules.

"It explains the rules about being out here. You can't congregate in one location, you've got to keep moving," the officer instructed Skrmetta.

Those with signs quickly began walking, including Betty Jo Miller, whose father managed the old Buena Vista Hotel.

"I think that the people on the Gulf Coast value tourism and value our wonderful view. We live for these waters. It was just crushing to our souls when the BP disaster occurred. And it looks like other people's profit is our ruin. Tourism is big business down here," Miller said.

Demonstrators said, while they may not change many minds among folks attending the energy summit, they're hoping the general public might take notice.

"We will not have lower gas prices if we drill in the gulf. And I don't think it's worth the risk to our tourism dollars," said protester, Julia Anderson.

The protest group points to an economic study which said even a three percent drop in tourism would be enough to offset any financial gains from drilling.

The economic study about the impact of drilling was written by Dr. Jeffrey Bounds.

He first released the study back in 2005, during the initial debate about offshore drilling. Dr. Bounds updated the report this year when drilling in Mississippi waters became an issue once again.

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