AP News

Agency rejects appeal on Miss. gas and oil leasing


JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The head of the Mississippi Development Authority has rejected an appeal by opponents who sought to block rules for offshore gas and oil exploration and leasing from taking effect.

In a Friday letter to Sierra Club attorney Robert Wiygul, authority Director Brent Christensen wrote that the rules were properly adopted. Opponents had expected the decision after a hearing officer earlier recommended to Christensen that he not overturn the rules.

"It is clear to me that the Mississippi Development Authority followed the proper procedures in establishing the rules and regulations for offshore seismic surveying and leasing, as authorized by the Mississippi Legislature," Christensen wrote.

The Sierra Club and the Gulf Restoration Network, who are fighting plans by the state to lease parts of the Mississippi Sound for natural gas drilling, said again Tuesday that they plan to appeal to Hinds County Chancery Court. Sierra Club state director Louie Miller said the groups have 10 days from Christensen's ruling to file suit.

The environmental groups say the state failed to consider the impacts of actual drilling, instead only considering the impacts of leasing.

"The idea that leasing does not lead to drilling is pretty absurd," Miller said.

MDA, though, says protecting the environment and preventing spills are jobs of other state agencies.

"MDA does not have jurisdiction over drilling; our responsibility is limited to the issuance of permits for seismic surveying and lease sales for the offshore blocks designated by the Legislature for mineral exploration," spokesman Dan Turner said.

Drilling would be limited to areas seaward of the barrier islands, but closer to shore in the eastern edge of Mississippi waters near the Alabama state line. Experts say there's natural gas under the sound but little oil.

Opponents also say MDA didn't adequately respond to public comments, though the authority notes that it altered the proposed rules in response to comments.

Though opponents say they're going to court, Christensen's ruling does open the way for MDA to hold a lease sale. Turner said the agency is moving "methodically and carefully" toward that goal, but said "establishing a date for the sale is not imminent."

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Follow Jeff Amy at http://twitter.com/jeffamy


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