Debate heating up again over oil and gas drilling in Mississippi

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The debate over oil and gas drilling in Mississippi waters is about to heat-up again. A legal notice published by the DMR, caught the attention of those who've been closely involved with this issue.

The notice itself seems rather mundane. It refers to the Mississippi Development Authority requesting a review of the rules and regulations governing oil and gas leases. But those involved with the issue are encouraging the public to take a closer look.

The citizens group, 12 Miles South, has been the most vocal and visible opponent of oil and gas drilling in state waters. They worry about oil rigs disturbing our coastal environment and tourism industry.

Environmental consultant Dr. Ed Cake sees this latest legal notice as something significant.

"An attempt by the Mississippi Development Authority to come in the back door to change the rules and regulations governing exploration for and production of oil and gas in Mississippi waters," said Dr. Cake.

He says, keep in mind that MDA already proposed potential drilling sites.

"And the maps that they produced and showed to the public did not have the exclusion zones around our barrier islands and our oyster reefs that are required under the current Mississippi Coastal Program for the protection of those habitats."

The DMR is responsible for making certain any oil or gas drilling follows the regulations of that Mississippi Coastal Program.

"It's called coastal zone consistency. And we have a written plan regarding rules and regulations for leases in state waters. So, anybody who wants to lease part of state waters, their process has to fit in with our rules," said DMR Public Information Officer Melissa Scallan.

Attorney Robert Wiygul represents the Sierra Club and other concerned parties in a lawsuit challenging MDA's regulations for oil and gas drilling.

"If we're going to look at this, this is something that should have been looked at a long time ago. That's what's really kind of baffling about this. Now it does suggest that the MDA is getting ready to try to lease water bottoms in the Mississippi Sound," he said.

That's exactly right, according to an MDA representative.

WLOX News asked about the public notice and was told by an MDA representative, "In short, this is just an early step in the offshore lease sale process."

"My biggest worry is the fact that they will be too close to oyster reefs and too close to our barrier islands and too close to our sensitive marshes," said Dr. Cake

Copyright 2013 WLOX. All rights reserved.