Concerned Residents Speak Out Against Oil & Gas Exploration Near Islands

The Mississippi Development Authority held a public hearing in Jackson Friday to get residents' input on seismic testing off the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Earlier this year the U.S. Senate passed a bill that allowed the state to explore, develop and produce oil and gas, from beneath the barrier islands. That has stirred opposition from environmentalists and coast residents.

"We think it's bad public policy to drill our national parks for oil and gas. These islands, in this case, were set aside for our enjoyment and to preserve a fragile environment," Louie Miller with the Sierra Club said.

"All of a sudden, that doesn't mean anything. Now they have a right to wave all that, blow off all environmental regulations, in the name of searching for, what? Some endless pittance of natural gas and oil? That's a dead horse," resident Mark Buchanan said.

Right now it's just exploring for fuel. But if it's found, rigs could be erected just south of the islands.

"It means a lot to the State of Alabama, right today, the State of Louisiana. Mississippi doesn't get anything off it today," Leland Speed with the Mississippi Development Authority said.

"The thought of drilling holes under those islands and harming them in any way literally petrifies me," Buchanan said.

Those opposing exploration say environmental safety isn't their only concern. The rigs would be visible from the coastline, which they say would ruin the landscape.

Companies interested in searching the depths of the gulf say the impact on the environment would be minimal, and if oil or gas is found, the economic benefits for residents on the coast would be sizeable.

Speed did agree to another meeting about oil and gas exporation in a couple of weeks. But it won't be a public hearing.

Speed said he just wants to meet with a handful of representatives in South Mississippi.