Published: April 2014 Southern Boating
© 2014 Troy Gilbert
Boaters along most of the Gulf Coast are keenly aware of why their waters and coastlines are nicknamed the “Energy
Coast.” With the waters of Texas, Louisiana and Alabama producing nearly a quarter of the United States oil and gas, the infrastructure is ubiquitous – massive oil rigs and platforms rise along shorelines, regattas race between them and they contribute to some of the greatest sportfishing in North America. The states of Florida and Mississippi have resisted oil & gas exploration and drilling and their waters are mostly free of these structures, but this may be coming to an end in Mississippi and an epic battle is brewing.
Home to an incredibly productive seafood industry, the federally protected Gulf Islands National Seashore located on a chain of barrier islands and a coast banking on beach tourism and casinos, Mississippi’s economic development authority is rushing to start allowing seismic testing and drilling and many are calling foul. The 12 Miles South Coalition, spearheaded by the Gulf Restoration Network, is demanding the state conduct studies on the impact to tourism and the environment, especially when considering the small estimates of natural gas expected to be recoverable.
Taking the lessons learned by the state of Alabama after they allowed exploration and drilling around Dauphin Island. Alabama eventually recognized the negatives to coastal tourism and enacted a ban on drilling in waters 15 miles out from Orange Beach and Gulf Shores – the 12 Miles South Coalition seeks a similar ban in Mississippi’s coastal waters.
Citing evidence that even a 3% reduction in tourism numbers along the coast would offset any potential gains from natural gas production, the coalition is gaining some allies. The National Park Service which administers the undeveloped barrier islands stated that allowing drilling near to these protected habitats and cruising grounds would “spoil the island’s congressionally designated wilderness character.” Further, the burgeoning casino industry located directly on the Mississippi Sound, has stated that they are not opposed to offshore drilling as long as it does not overrun the tourist areas with industrial equipment and eyesores.
As the conflicting interests of oil & gas revenues versus pristine cruising grounds and coastlines heat up throughout the country, Mississippi may well be one of the fastest moving battlegrounds and the outcome could go a long way towards re-kindling or dampening the temptation to drill off of the Florida Gulf Coast.