Nature Noted

Notes on a changing Nature

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Location: Bellville, Texas, United States

I never would have predicted this one

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Drilling the Seashore

This is one that just makes me sick. According to the L.A. Times four paragraphs tucked into the emergency military spending bill signed by President Bush allow oil companies to begin preliminary exploration inside the Gulf Islands National Seashore. As a preliminary step to drilling, the rider permits seismic testing, which involves detonating sound-wave explosions to locate oil and gas deposits in the park. Two of the five Mississippi islands are wilderness areas, and the environs are home to federally protected fish and birds, a large array of sea turtles and the gulf's largest concentration of bottlenose dolphins. The legislation marks the first time the federal government has sanctioned seismic exploration on national park property designated as wilderness — which carries with it the highest level of protection.
The rider was slipped in by Sen. Thad Cochran, who defends it as just looking out for Mississippi's interests.
The Cochran amendment sets the stage for sinking 16-story drilling platforms in state waters that would be in full view of residents and tourists who flock to the gulf's beaches. In the last 60 years, five wells have been drilled in Mississippi state waters, and none of them has produced oil or gas. But the state now contends that shallow deposits of natural gas could be tapped. Proponents of exploration said that state and federal regulation would continue to protect the islands and their wildlife. "By the time someone produces natural gas, they will have gone through a number of state agencies and a number of federal agencies," said Joe Sims, president of the Alabama and Mississippi division of the U.S. Oil and Gas Assn.
Moreover, he said, the economic boon to the state could be significant. "You don't know until you drill," Sims said, "but I use the number $200 million to $300 million over the life of the production" as a likely estimate of the state's share of royalties and taxes from production under the islands.

What a frapping crock.
That's pennies compared to what tourism means to the area. This is one topic I do know a little something about. My mother's side of the family is from the coast, and my Dad is retired down there. Growing up, I spent a good part of every summer down there. Anyone who's spent any amount of time on the central Gulf Coast, from Texas to Mobile Bay knows that the water there isn't exactly scenic. Nice brown muddy water. Great for shrimp. Cools you off when it's hot, but you don't hear many odes written to the waters there. At least it's better than the brown water off Galveston. There you get both muddy water and tar balls from the offshore rigs. But take just a short boat ride out to the barrier islands, and the world changes. The islands are wild. Except for Civil war era Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island, there's never been any development out there. Go to the Gulf side of the islands, and the water turns a miraculous blue. It's like nowhere else on the central coast. The first time I saw it, I couldn't believe the Gulf of Mexico could be anything but mud brown. Every Memorial and Labor Day weekends, a small flotilla heads to Cat Island. People pitch tents, sleep on the boats, light bonfires and enjoy the beautiful world. Then they pack everything on the boats and head home, leaving it the way they found it. It's wonderful. Now, thanks to Thad Cochran, they won't have to worry about the bonfires, everybody can sing by the light of the oil rigs.
On top of that, IT'S A NATIONAL PARK. Doesn't that mean anything? No, let's start setting off the seismic charges and plop a couple of rigs on the off chance there's some oil or gas there.
One of my family holdings is mineral rights on a little piece of property on the coast. Every couple of decades someone comes along and gets permission to explore, looking for a pool of dinosaur wine. And for a brief minute or two dollar signs dance in our eyes. It never comes to anything. Now its Mississippi's turn to let the dollar signs dance. Anybody want to guess how this one turns out?

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