Besides the sinking of the land, another thing is certain in the state of Louisiana: most people here are influenced in some way or another by the oil and gas industry.
Last week Heidi and I attended another community forum on coastal restoration, which was hosted and attended by a wide variety of organizations that are working down here to restore coastal Louisiana. These included Terrebonne Parish county government, Bayou Grace, BISCO,TRAC, and Oxfam, along with individuals from many other organizations, including MEM alum Cindy Brown of the Nature Conservancy.
Nick Matherne, director of the LDNR Office of Coastal Restoration and Preservation for Terrebonne Parish, described how the people of Terrebonne Parish were upset about the BP oil spill last year. But people were even more furious at the 6 month moratorium imposed by President Obama on deepwater drilling that occurred after the spill. This is because the oil and gas industry employs many people in Louisiana directly or indirectly. In 2009, Terrebonne Parish had an unemployment rate of only 5.3%, while the average for the country was 9.7%, and 7.2% for the state of Louisiana.
Mr. Matherne also spoke at length about the importance of oil and gas for the people of Louisiana and the economy of the United States. He pointed out that while we might not like the side effects of oil and gas, we have to recognize that this country, and especially coastal Louisiana, cannot survive without this industry.
When a brave soul at the meeting managed to get in a question about how sea level rise is going to affect the coastal plans for the district, Mr. Matherne did not have a concise answer. He did note the importance of recognizing the existence of the strong conservative base here in Louisiana. Since climate change has become a political issue, many people down here in coastal Louisiana don’t “believe” in climate change and sea level rise.
Add to this that the oil and gas industry is a powerful force that Louisianans depend so heavily upon for their livelihood. It is instrumental in the economy of both Louisiana and the country. But, along with the other factors Heidi described in her last blog, the oil and gas industry is also contributing to land loss, both through climate change and erosion from the oil canals. And it also receives huge tax breaks. Yes, it is a complicated issue.
Isle de Jean Charles
A few weeks ago we visited Isle de Jean Charles, an island with an ever shrinking Native-American population. The current estimate is that about 20-30 families still live here along with an assortment of fishing camps. This island is outside of the Louisiana master plan, and therefore in danger of completely disappearing into the water soon.
Until last month, the only two lane road to this island was in such bad shape from Hurricane Ike and erosion that it was mostly down to one lane and often dangerous to drive on. The road was repaved and repaired this past June, four months ahead of schedule, costing approximately $6-7 million to elevate it one foot. However, many families had already moved away from the island, never expecting to see the road ever repaired again.
Last weekend we joined many southern Louisianans on “the island” (as it is nicknamed) for a great day of barbeque, boating, swimming in the bayou (the local kids love to jump right in!), and of course discussing environmental issues.
I was engrossed in a conversation with a local man from Houma who told me that it was horrible that the men died on the rig last year in the oil spill, and it should not have happened. However, he emphasized that he was not an apologist, and that the death of the wildlife from the oil spill is a fact of life and the price we pay for the benefits that come from the oil and gas industry. He also told me that there probably will be very minimal effects from the oil spill in the future because Mother Nature is good at absorbing pollution and cleaning itself.
Chris, a resident of neighboring Pointe-aux-Chenes, then took us on a boat ride around the island. Every other sentence out of his mouth was “this used to be land”. A scary image that is soon to follow for much of coastal Louisiana.