Offshore Oil Rig Proposal Rekindles Pre-Katrina Debate - - The News for South Mississippi

Offshore Oil Rig Proposal Rekindles Pre-Katrina Debate

BILOXI (WLOX) -- President Bush wants Congress to reopen coastal waters around the country to offshore drilling rigs. The president believes oil exploration can bring down America's soaring gas prices.

Offshore drilling should be a familiar topic to south Mississippians. Just days before Katrina battered the coast, that's all people were talking about.

In 2005, one of the most outspoken critics of offshore drilling near Mississippi's barrier islands was Robert Barq. But since the storm, Barq has had a change of heart.

"It's reality. You've got to go with the times," he said.

To Barq, the times no longer require the line in the sand drawn in 2005 by his 12 Miles South Coalition. That phrase is on a faded bumper sticker that still adorns the back windshield of his car.

"Things change. And if you can't change with reality, then your head is stuck in the sand," he said.

So what changed? Gas prices went through the roof. And, Katrina proved to Barq that oil rigs could withstand even the most powerful storms. So to this Biloxi native, environmental concerns linked to oil rigs no longer exist.

"My position is don't come on the inside of the islands," Barq said.

The captain of the Ship Island Excursion boat worked closely with Barq when the 12 Miles South Coalition fought oil exploration in the gulf. Now, Louis Skrmetta and Barq are adversaries on the issue.

"Any drilling next to Gulf Islands National Seashore is wrong. It's inappropriate. And it's unnecessary," Skrmetta said.

12 Miles South doesn't meet as a group anymore. But members like Skrmetta still believe oil drilling is a bad idea in or near Mississippi waters.

"We are against drilling anywhere near the barrier islands," he emphasized.

President Bush wants to lift a 27 year old ban on offshore oil and gas drilling. He's hoping increased domestic oil production will bring down gas prices that are sucking record amounts of money out of everybody's pockets.

"Do it. Do it. It's got to be done," thought Barq.

Skrmetta said he was always for offshore drilling.

"But I'm for it in its appropriate place. If it's far enough off the islands it's okay with me," he said.

To Skrmetta, that would be at least 12 miles south of the barrier islands. That distance is what Barq now has qualms about.

'"What I'm saying is 3-5 miles outside the islands, maybe not 12, but 3-5 miles," he said.

On Capitol Hill, republicans supported President Bush's offshore oil drilling recommendation. But Congressional democrats quickly rejected the idea.

By Brad Kessie

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