Environmentalists oppose offshore drilling bids in Gulf of Mexico

At the heart of this opposition is a plea to move toward more sustainable energy and safeguard the environment.
Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 7:11 PM CDT
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Wednesday, oil and gas companies bid on more than 1.6 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for future drilling. One site is less than 25 miles from Jackson County. Some environmental groups are trying to stop those companies with a lawsuit filed in early March.

“The vast majority of the benefits (from drilling) flow to the federal government and big oil,” said environmental attorney Robert Wygul. “We have already seen what can happen and we don’t need to increase that risk.”

Wygul is a witness in the lawsuit filed by environmental groups. He points to the BP oil spill as more than enough reason to block new drilling.

“The BP oil spill was a long way from here and that oil got all the way here,” he said. “The scientists tell us the spill had effects on fish right here in Mississippi. These things really are in our backyard because our backyard is a really big place.”

The drilling auction is a result of the Inflation Reduction Act. Sen. Joe Manchin added it to the major climate and energy bill that President Joe Biden signed.

“Sen. Manchin required offshore leasing after the Biden Administration planned not to have it,” said Andrew Whitehurst, the water program director for the watchdog group Healthy Gulf. They are one of three organizations involved in the lawsuit.

“The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management didn’t follow the requirements of the NEPA, National Environmental Policy Act,” Whitehurst said. “It ignored effects to people on shore that live around the refining industry. It looked at offshore effects but it didn’t come on shore and look at effects to people. We also have effects to marine life, to the whales, to several turtle species in the gulf.”

At the heart of this opposition is a plea to move toward more sustainable energy and safeguard the environment.

“Growing up here in Mississippi where me and my family, we spent a lot of time outdoors doing things that people do here. Hunting, fishing and hiking,” Wygul said. “What I saw is that for our kids to be able to have that same experience that I had, we’re going to have to protect those resources.”

Now, a federal court will determine whether the auction was legal and if companies can proceed with drilling. The bids on new oil and gas leases in the Gulf topped $ 263 million. That money goes to the U.S. Treasury, Mississippi and other Gulf states, local governments and two conservation and preservation funds.

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