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Expect activists at Gulfport meeting on offshore drilling plan

The oil and natural gas industry is more important to Mississippi than many people may think. The industry gets more attention in some of our neighboring states, but according to public and private

sources it supports nearly 100,000 jobs here and contributes $9 billion to the state's economy every year.

Which makes it seem crazy that some people would want to shut down oil and natural gas production from federal lands and water. But that's just what a group of environmental groups are calling for.

They're using the slogan, "Keep it in the ground," and it's something the residents of Gulfport may hear more of soon.

The U.S. Interior Department is holding a public meeting (4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Courtyard by Marriott, Gulfport Beachfront Hotel, 1600 East Beach Boulevard) to accept comments on its 2017-2022 plan for offshore drilling. If previous meetings held in other Gulf Coast cities are any guide, these activists are going to use the meeting as a platform to promote their extremist goal.

That's their constitutional right, of course, as long as they remain peaceful and respectful of others with different views. But don't be fooled. What these activists are suggesting would have a huge and very negative impact on Gulfport, the state of Mississippi, and the entire country.

The energy revolution in the United States has been nothing short of a miracle. The United States has the resource base and technical capability to be the number one oil producer in the world. Gas prices are near all-time lows in real terms. We're exporting crude oil from the lower 48 states for the first time in four decades. Many economists believe manufacturing jobs that went overseas are now coming back because energy here has become so plentiful and affordable.

If we cut that revolution short and keep our fossil fuel resources in the ground, gas prices may spike. It is not in the interest of the United States or of the American people to allow OPEC alone to set the price without fear of competition. The cost of countless consumer products would go up as well, everything from clothing and cell phones to home appliances and sleeping bags.

Last week's spill off the coast of Louisiana reminds us that you cannot eliminate all risk in developing energy, but the good news is that the process worked. The leak was detected early, Shell and the federal regulators worked together to see that the release was stopped, and clean up was immediately initiated.

It appears that there will be little or no damage to the natural resources or the environment.

But "keep it in the ground" would almost certainly have a negative impact on the environment. As oil and natural gas production has gone up here in the United States, greenhouse gas emissions have gone down. That's because we employ the latest techniques and technologies to minimize emissions. Most other major fossil fuel powers around the world, places like Russia and Venezuela, aren't so careful. And they would be more than happy to grab more market share if we cut back.

Finally, taxes here in Mississippi would go up or some of our most cherished state and federal programs would be cut back. The oil and natural gas industry pays billions of dollars in royalties, rents and bonus

bids for the right to draw fossil fuels from federal lands and waters. That money is used for land and water conservation, historic preservation programs and many other valued initiatives.We can take advantage of the many benefits of fossil fuel production while keeping our people and the environment safe. The people of Mississippi deserve nothing less.

Quinn P. Fanning is Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Tidewater, a provider of larger Offshore Service Vessels to the global energy industry.

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