State Senate supporting Destin Dome lease sale

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Published: September 18,2000

The Mississippi Senate passed a resolution during the recent special session that encourages the Minerals Management Service (MMS) to proceed with an outer

continental shelf (OCS) lease planned Dec. 5, 2001 in the eastern Gulf of Mexico south of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.

Sen. Tommy Robertson, one of the co-sponsors of the resolution that passed 51-1, said a large natural gas field has been found about 50 miles south of Gulf Shores,

Ala. Robertson said four states — Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama — favor developing the gas field. But it is opposed in Florida, where strong lobbying by

the tourism industry and environmental groups against offshore oil and gas production has led to opposition by the state’s Congressional delegation and Gov. Jeb

Bush.

Robertson said with the price of natural gas sky high and likely to go higher, it is important for the U.S. to develop domestic reserves.

“If we have natural gas available here in the U.S., we need to take advantage of it,” Robertson said. “It will help our consumers, as well as industry, also.”

Robertson said some of the natural gas from the area known as the Destin Dome and Federal Lease Sale 181 would probably be processed at the BP Amoco gas

processing plant in Pascagoula, which would increase employment. And he believes that Mississippi Power Company, which is building two large natural gas

generators at Plant Daniel in Escatawpa, and gas-fired merchant power plants currently planned or under construction elsewhere in Mississippi would also benefit from

larger supplies of natural gas that would stabilize prices.

“We have a quite a few gas merchant plants in Mississippi, so it (the new gas field) could have a pretty good impact in Mississippi,” Robertson said.

He added that Mississippi also benefits from oil rig platform fabrication and installation, pipeline contracting and construction, purchase of goods and supplies to

service the offshore oil industry and employment of state residents offshore.

The Senate resolution said that a strong domestic oil and natural gas industry is vitally important to the United States’ economy and national defense, yet the United

States’ domestic oil and gas production has decreased at the same time that domestic consumption of oil has increased by over 14%. The U.S. imports about 55% of

oil consumed. In the next 20 years demand for oil is expected to increase by more than 35%, and demand for natural gas is expected to increase by 45%.

Joseph Sims, president of the Mississippi/Alabama division of the U.S. Oil and Gas Association, said that Destin Dome federal lease sale would greatly benefit the

Gulf states. Louisiana and Alabama passed resolutions during their regular sessions supporting the lease sale.

“Particularly the states of Mississippi and Alabama gain economically from federal activity,” Sims said.

Sims said Florida’s opposition to the lease sale is not based on fact and is extremely naive in light of this county’s need for natural gas. He said the lease sales have

been opposed in Florida because of fears of an oil spill that would impact beaches and tourism.

“Florida would have you believe we are endangering the beaches, but Mobile Bay has had a very good success story in terms of operating safely,” says Sims. “The

natural gas goes from the well to the plant. We’re going to have to be persuasive and let the people of Florida know the benefits they would derive. The irony is that

Florida is trying to get more natural gas brought in.”

Florida’s population growth rate is one of the highest in the country, and plans are being made to meet the anticipated increased demand for electricity with new

natural-gas fired power generators.

Mississippi and other coastal states could also benefit considerably by legislation that has passed the U.S. House and is currently under consideration in the U.S.

Senate called the Conservation and Investment Act (CARA). CARA would redirect 50% of federal revenues from OCS oil and gas production and 8% of revenues

from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to the coastal states impacted by the production.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss) is one of the original co-sponsors of the bill that would bring more than $83 million per year to Mississippi for

infrastructure and conservation projects such as purchase of land for parks or preservation. A number of Western senators who oppose more federal ownership of

land are threatening to filibuster the bill.

“With five weeks left in the session, that is serious,” Lott said.

Lott said efforts to compromise with the Western senators by putting modifications in the bill to satisfy their concerns have not yet been successful. The Western

senators believe the federal government already owns too much land, and that there isn’t enough private ownership left to produce the tax revenues needed to support

the government.

Lott spokesman Lee Youngblood said the CARA revenues could be used for air and water quality monitoring, development of infrastructure such as roads and dams,

state parks and recreation programs, coastal restoration and shoreline protection, wetlands protection, land acquisition, historic preservation, public service and

wildlife conservation.

“There are quite a few municipalities around the state interested in CARA for various reasons,” Youngblood said.

A filibuster would hold up other important Senate business. Lott is known as a leader who doesn’t like to let the Senate get bogged down in unproductive battles, so

he might not put CARA on the calendar unless an agreement can be reached against a filibuster. Youngblood said the time limit might make it difficult to consider

CARA before the current session ends.

“We’re hopeful we can find a way to bring it up,” Youngblood said. “But if for some reason it isn’t brought up this session, that doesn’t preclude CARA being brought

up again when we resume. I believe Sen. Lott will continue to try to get CARA passed because it does mean so much to the state.”

Although most of the CARA money would go to coastal counties, some would also be available for use elsewhere in the state.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3467.


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