SPANISH FORT – Federal energy policies restricting new oil and natural gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico could cost the Mobile Bay region and rest of the state millions of dollars and thousands of jobs, U.S. Rep. Jerry Carl, R-Mobile, said.
During a discussion of energy policy with local officials at the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center, Carl said energy policies under the administration of President Joe Biden and the Democrats controlling Congress will restrict offshore drilling, which provides jobs and funding for the region.
“We need the Gulf opened up. We need the natural gas. I’ve argued with my Democrat counterparts. I’ve pointed out to them the natural gas coming out of our wells here in the Gulf Coast is exactly what they’re going to be burning in the wintertime. So, when the rates go through the roof north of here, in Chicago and other areas, and the rates go up on natural gas, they’re the only ones to blame,” Carl said. “We have tried everything in our power to convince them that we need to keep the leases going and keep the drilling going here in South Alabama, that’s where I’m focused on.”
About 30,000 jobs are tied to the oil and gas industry in Alabama, with most of those on the Gulf Coast, according to Carl and other meeting participants.
Oil and gas production also provides funding for the region through the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006, known as GOMESA. Under GOMESA, states where oil and gas wells are drilled offshore share 37.5 percent of the revenue from Gulf production.
Alabama received more than $153 million since the beginning of GOMESA, according to a statement by the Consumer Energy Alliance. That money can be used only for projects in Mobile and Baldwin counties, Chris Blankenship, director of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said.
Some Baldwin County projects paid for through GOMESA include the county public boat launch under construction on the Intracoastal Waterway, the Spanish Fort park planned on the Causeway and dredging the D’Olive Bay boat channel in Daphne.
“I know the city of Mobile, Mobile County, Baldwin County, y’all have some wonderful projects going on. I don’t think the average person understands how this GOMESA money is actually used,” Carl said. “It’s coming from our natural resources that we’re allowing a company to drill and take, but it’s money that we can use on recreation projects. We can use it on environmental projects. There are some parameters that we cannot use it on, but there are so many good things.”
Wiley Blankenship, director of the Coastal Alabama Partnership, one of the groups that organized the meeting, said cuts in oil and gas production would hurt the local economy.
“There would be significant job losses,” he said. “You’ve got GOMESA and it’s tied to that, but you’re putting people out of work and it’s not just a few people. It’s a lot of people.”
Blankenship said most of the impact would be in coastal counties.
“Maybe not all, but the majority of those are right here in these two counties,” he said. “If you think about, all of the sudden, those go away, what’s that do to our economy?”
Carl said the process of drilling wells and bringing the facilities into production takes three to five years, so funding will not drop immediately. He said he hoped that Republicans can retake the House of Representatives in the 2022 elections and have more say in shaping energy policy and allowing more drilling in the Gulf.
“We’re moving toward green energy and I’m not opposed to that by no means,” Carl said. “I just find it hard to believe that we can shut down on the petro side and start back up on the green energy.”