Gulf for Lease
By Max Gerson, Sierra Club Louisiana Intern. Originally posted in the Sierra Club's Compass. It's typically considered bad form to kick an enemy when he's down. By that standard, former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour's last actions in office are nothing short of a disgrace. With days to go before his successor Phil Bryant was meant to take the oath of office, Barbour instructed the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) to create a set of rules for leasing state waters in the Gulf of Mexico to the oil and gas industry. This was a smack in the face for those who have been working tirelessly for the past two years to repair the damage in this region that was brought about by BP's Macondo Well. Opening these waters for oil and gas exploration may be the harbinger to another major disaster and perhaps the doom of the Gulf Coast.
The new leasing rules, which are set to take effect this month, have met opposition from the 12 Miles South Coalition, an organization comprised of political, environmental, business and community leaders. In attempt to stay potential catastrophe, the Sierra Club and the Gulf Restoration Network, both members of the coalition, filed a joint lawsuit against the MDA to appeal the implementation of the leasing rules. The suit contends that the MDA is moving too quickly to open Gulf waters, citing the lack of a detailed economic study and examination of public opinion. MDA's counter argument to the suit claims that there has already been sufficient delay for public opinion and that the processes will move forward in a safe and economic manner.
Governor Bryant has given his full support to the MDA and its rules set. In a speech related to the issue given earlier this month, he suggested that public interests in the region would be preserved as developers attempt to tap into the reserves that are estimated to hold about 350 billion cubic feet of natural gas.
"We can put it where it doesn't disrupt the view of tourists that have comes to that location," Bryant said during his speech. A bold statement, however one is left to wonder how the governor will hide numerous oil rigs as close as 3 miles from the Mississippi shoreline, or a gargantuan oil slick in the event of another BP-like catastrophe.
This dilemma represents yet another reason why the people of the Gulf of Mexico need to make their voices heard. Establishing a Region Citizen's Advisory Council (RCAC) for the Gulf of Mexico would help balance the power of the current administration, as well as the MDA. An RCAC comprised of stakeholders who live, work and play in the Gulf would have the ability to oversee all industrial activities and perhaps be the champion of a region struggling to revive.
-- Max Gerson, Sierra Club Louisiana Intern