JACKSON – Gov. Haley Barbour said Sunday he’ll tell President Barack Obama that the six-month moratorium on exploratory deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico could hurt the U.S. economy and force oil companies to take their equipment to other countries.
Obama is scheduled to arrive this morning in Gulfport, the first stop on a two-day trip to Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. He’ll meet with local officials about how the states are being affected by oil that has been spewing into the Gulf since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded nearly eight weeks ago.
While parts of Louisiana’s shoreline and marshes have been coated with globs of oil, Mississippi’s manmade beaches remain largely untouched except for tar balls. Oil has affected some of Mississippi’s barrier islands near Alabama.
Barbour, a Republican, said he will meet with the Democratic president in Gulfport. Barbour skipped Obama’s three previous appearances at Louisiana sites affected by the oil spill, although governors from other Gulf states met with the president.
Appearing Sunday CBS television’s “Face the Nation,” Barbour repeated what he has said publicly several times the past few weeks – that he doesn’t believe there should be a moratorium on exploratory oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
“There have been more than 30,000 oil wells drilled in the Gulf of Mexico in the last 50 years. This is the first time something like this has ever happened,” Barbour said. “And we need to get to the bottom of it, find out what happened, make sure it doesn’t happen again. But I think it is very reasonable to continue to drill.”
The Deepwater Horizon spill, which came 50 miles south of Louisiana, is huge but not unprecedented in the Gulf.
The world’s largest peacetime oil spill happened in 1979, when the Ixtoc disaster off Mexico’s coast spewed 140 million gallons of oil into the Gulf in 10 months. Massive slicks reached beaches in Mexico and Texas.
Barbour said oil companies would move equipment to other countries if there’s even a temporary halt to drilling the in Gulf.
“We produce 30 percent of our oil in the United States in the Gulf of Mexico,” Barbour said. “If you shut that down, and it will have an enormously negative effect on the national economy.”
After the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, the Obama administration put a six-month moratorium on exploratory drilling in Gulf waters deeper than 500 feet. That halted work at 33 exploratory rigs already operating. Rigs in shallow waters were allowed to keep operating.
Barbour on Sunday also said “very sensational” media coverage of the BP oil spill has hurt Mississippi tourism. He said some coverage does not make distinctions between what’s happening in Louisiana, which has been hardest hit, and other states.
“And the people of the United States have the impression the whole Gulf of Mexico is ankle-deep in oil, which is simply not the case,” Barbour said. “By God’s grace, we haven’t had any oil yet reach the shore of Mississippi. We’ve had a couple of incursions on our barrier islands, but we have lost the first third of the tourist season.”
Mississippi officials said Friday that some areas south of Pascagoula were closed to commercial and recreational fishing because oil from the spill.
The irregularly shaped area runs from the south shore of Horn Island east to the Alabama state line. Waters between the shore and the islands off Biloxi and Gulfport are not included, but the closure area moves north to near the shore around Pascagoula Bay and then to the Alabama line.
Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press