MDA gives final OK for new rules on oil, gas drilling

Published 12:01 am Sunday, November 26, 2006

The state of Mississippi has put in place new rules for the leasing of state-owned mineral rights.

Mississippi Development Authority executive director Leland Speed this week approved new regulations for letting oil and natural gas companies drill on recreational and wildlife land owned by the state.

Speed has said the state should be more aggressive in leasing mineral rights for state-owned land, which includes state parks and wildlife refuges.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The Sierra Club has promised to fight the new rules.

Speed approved the rules after reviewing staff recommendations, said Jack Moody, who manages the MDA’s Office of Natural Resources and State Mineral Lease Program.

Mississippi, under a 40-year-old program, already permits leasing out the rights to state-owned minerals at parks and other public properties.

The Legislature transferred the mineral lease program from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality to MDA in 2004. MDEQ and the state Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks have endorsed MDA’s new oil-gas leasing regulations, officials said.

Sierra Club state director Louie Miller has disputed MDA’s claim that oil and natural gas exploration can be done in an environmentally sensitive way. Miller said MDA should not sell oil-gas drilling rights for any state park, wildlife sanctuary or other environmentally sensitive areas.

Moody said MDA officials reviewed Miller’s suggestions for changing the policy but opted to keep it largely how it was drafted.

“It’s a difference of opinion,” Moody told The Commercial Dispatch newspaper of Columbus.

Moody has said drilling limits, for example, would ensure wells are out of plain public view at parks and be restricted from operating during certain wildlife seasons.

Mississippi law provides that oil and natural gas companies allowed to drill on state-owned wildlife management areas and lakes will be subject to MDWFP regulations.

In letting MDA offer for public bid the rights to exploit state-owned land for potential oil or natural gas, the law says MDA must follow state conservation policies.

Appeals of the regulations would be handled within the agency first with an administrative review and then can wind up in court.

House Conservation Committee Chairman Jamie Franks, D-Mooreville, has said he plans to file a bill next year to ban oil and natural gas drilling in state parks.