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Gulf Coast Challenges Spawn Industry-Environmentalist Alliance

Threats to the Gulf Coast -- hurricanes and coastal erosion among them -- have inspired energy industry leaders, environmentalists and conservationists to launch a sustainability initiative to protect the region, which is an energy breadbasket for the nation.

According to the group America's Energy Coast (AEC), which was formed last year by the America's WETLAND Foundation, the Gulf Coast provides more than 90% of America's offshore energy supply. Last Thursday in The Woodlands, TX, the group announced the "Accord for a New Sustainability of America's Energy Coast."

"The energy production activities that take place here depend on the presence of a sustainable coast for maximum efficiency and stability, thus the balanced solutions we develop through this accord will ultimately set the course for America's sustainable economic and environmental future," said R. King Milling, chair of the America's WETLAND Foundation.

The "energy coast" is composed of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, all of which allow drilling for oil and natural gas in their waters. According to recent data from energy consultant IHS Inc., the U.S. Gulf of Mexico (GOM) produced 476 million bbl, or 25% of the U.S. total oil, and 2.8 Tcf of gas, or 12% of U.S. supplies, in 2007. Moreover, the deepwater GOM is yielding some world-class oil and gas discoveries. According to IHS data, GOM discoveries yielded 8.5 billion boe from 2000 through 2007, making it the seventh leading source/country in the world over that period. Recently there were 3,639 producing oil wells and 3,788 gas wells in the U.S. GOM, according to IHS data (see NGI, June 9).

The accord was released at a press conference held by AEC in conjunction with the National Conference of State Legislators' 2008 Legislative Summit, which was being held in New Orleans.

"This region is critically important to our nation's energy security, and to solve the numerous problems we face along the Gulf Coast, we must find common ground that will serve as the basis for developing real solutions," said Mark Hurley, president of Shell Pipeline and chair of the AEC industry council.

Susan Kaderka of the National Wildlife Federation called the Gulf Coast a national treasure that is slipping away. "As a country we need to understand that restoring this landscape is not just a big expense; it's an important investment that will yield returns for generations to come," she said.

The accord itself is more than 20 pages long. Among the issues facing the Gulf Coast it enumerates are:

Also last Thursday Louisiana State Senate President Joel Chaisson (D-Destrahan) released the results of a survey that showed nine out of 10 voters of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas feel the states should work together to solve coastal issues, with 7% feeling that cooperation would not help.

The poll of 1,200 voters of the four states, conducted for the America's WETLAND Foundation, show that 88% feel the states can have both energy production and environmental protection, with a similar number saying sustainability of both is a regional priority; 90% feel that the federal government has an obligation to help protect the coastal region, as it supports domestic energy security.

The survey results were released during the press conference announcing the accord. "This poll shows there is support among the citizens for this accord," Chaisson said. "This isn't just about Louisiana or our sister coastal producing states, but the economies of 31 states that depend on the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast region.

"As the nation debates how offshore drilling and the production of our domestic energy supplies can be better aligned with our goals for achieving environmental sustainability, America's Energy Coast can point the way for the future."

More survey results, the accord and other information are available at www.americasenergycoast.org.

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