MDA receives comments on proposed regulations for offshore drilling leases

GULF OF MEXICO — Mississippi officials say they have received 185 comments on proposed regulations to lease state waters in the Gulf for the drilling.

Mississippi Development Authority spokesman Dan Turner told The Mississippi Press just a handful of the comments addressed the draft rules and regulations on offshore seismic surveying and leasing.

“There were some emails that said, ‘drill baby, drill’ and there were some emails that said ‘don’t drill under an circumstance,’” Turner said.

The MDA also held public hearings in Jackson and Gautier.

Mississippi law prohibits drilling inside the barrier islands, about 10 miles out; an exception is a narrow north-south strip near Alabama. Federal waters begin roughly 12 miles out.

“This process really didn’t have anything to do with offshore ‘yes or no,’” Turner said. “This was a process of offshore ‘how’ because ‘yes or no’ was a function of the Legislature to decide and in 2004 they decided to take 62 percent of the state’s coastal waters off the map and left 38 percent approximately on the map for drilling.”

Mississippi Sierra Club head Louie Miller said drilling would spoil the Gulf Islands National Seashore, including two islands designated as wilderness areas. He also said that any economic gains to the state would be outweighed if tourists are driven away by drilling.

State officials estimate there is 350 billion cubic feet of natural gas that would provide from $250 million to $500 million in royalty payments. The state’s Educational Trust Fund would receive 97.5 percent of the royalty payments. Other money would go to wildlife and habitat conservation activities, oil spill recovery and to administer the mineral leasing program.

There also would be severance taxes, with the state’s share going to the education fund. Coastal counties would receive severance taxes, with half going to their general funds and half to reducing property taxes.

Turner said MDA staff would go through the comments in about a week and decide on any changes to the draft rules and regulations that were published in December.

The next step would be to send the rules to the secretary of state’s office and after 30 days the rules and regulations go into effect.

The state is then required to hold at least one lease auction a year.

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