JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Environmental groups want a judge to stop rules setting a framework for offshore gas and oil exploration in parts of the Mississippi Sound.
At a hearing Monday, the Sierra Club and the Gulf Restoration Network asked Hinds County Chancery Court Judge William Singletary to order the Mississippi Development Authority to reconsider the rules governing leasing certain tracts.
The legal action centers not on whether drilling would be good for the state's environment and economy but on whether MDA properly drew up the rules to allow seismic testing and leasing of parts of the Mississippi Sound by oil and gas companies. MDA issued the rules in 2012 and ruled against an administrative appeal from opponents, with the case then moving into court.
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.
The Sierra Club and the Gulf Restoration Network, which challenged the rules in March, say MDA erred by failing to prepare an economic impact statement that encompassed all the risks and benefits of oil and gas drilling. The agency limited its analysis to only the costs and benefits of seismic exploration and leasing, not to the actual drilling.
"They just didn't look at all the impacts," argued Ocean Springs lawyer Robert Wiygul for the opponents. Those who are fighting drilling presented their own study saying the risks to tourism outweigh any benefits.