By; Jim Brown
Thursday May 15th, 2008
Has America become so homogenized that we are thinking more alike regardless of what part of the country we come from? We all get the same evening news, the same TV shows, and the same radio talking heads telling us what, in their opinion, our opinion should be. Are Louisiana's interests and priorities along the same track as those expressed by locals along the east coast? I decided to take a look.
I make it a habit of taking a road trip somewhere around the country every few months, to get a sense of outside perspectives on Louisiana, and what we do or do not have in common with other parts of the country. In New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts this week, I found the same issues on the front burner that concern many Louisianians, but often different opinions.
Katrina and Rita were catastrophes that have faded from memory, and are stories for the history books for most of these easterners. They had "moved on" from any major concern a long time ago. This might well be as much a reflection on Louisiana leaders who failed to develop a major public relations effort to keep the hurricane protection problem on the front burner.
Former Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and present New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin both dropped the ball in not organizing a long contingent of outreach groups to sell Louisiana's needs nationwide. In earlier columns, I joined others in suggesting that teams of civic leaders and elected officials work the country state-by-state, making appearances before editorial boards and civic groups, bringing the story of the state's great need for flood protection and wetlands help. Minor efforts were made, but our public officials really missed the boat on the opportunity to build a consensus for the need of additional recovery dollars. Too many other regional and national problems are now on the agenda in other parts of the country, and there is little interest to do more than has already been done.
The price of a gallon of gas is off the charts in these east coast states. The cheapest gas I could find in Connecticut, and I really looked, was $4.16 a gallon. That was the cheapest. As you can imagine, there was lots of complaining from the locals. I suggested an obvious place to begin in order to lower the price. More domestic production. More drilling off the coast. Heads began shaking, or I received blank stares. "Drill off our coast? Have all that pollution, and major oil spills? No way!" I heard these sentiments repeatedly.
Marine researcher Humberto Fontova did a major study of oil production and its environmental effects on Louisiana coastal waters recently and here is what he found. For fear of oil spills, as of 2008, the U.S. Federal government and various states ban drilling in thousands of square miles off the U.S. Coast. These areas, primarily on the Outer Continental Shelf, hold an estimated 115 billion barrels of oil and 633 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. This leaves America’s energy needs increasingly at the mercy of foreign autocrats, despots and maniacs.
Of the roughly 3,700 offshore oil production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, some 3,200 lie off the Louisiana coast. Yet Louisiana produces one-third of America's commercial fisheries and no major oil spill has ever soiled its coast.
On the other hand, Florida, which zealously prohibits offshore oil drilling, had its gorgeous "Emerald Coast" panhandle beaches soiled by an ugly oil spill in 1976. This spill, as almost all oil spills, resulted from the transportation of oil – not from the extraction of oil.
But forget cheaper oil and less pollution for a second. All fishermen and scuba divers out there should plead with their states to open up offshore oil drilling posthaste. I refer to the fabulous fishing – the EXPLOSION of marine life that accompanies the erection of offshore oil platforms.
The original plan, mandated by federal environmental "experts" back in the late '40s, was to remove the big, ugly, polluting, environmentally hazardous contraptions as soon as they stopped producing. Fine, said the oil companies.
About 15 years ago some wells played out off Louisiana and the oil companies tried to comply. Their ears are still ringing from the clamor fishermen put up. Turns out those platforms are going nowhere, and by popular demand of those with a bigger stake in the marine environment than any "environmentalist."
Every "environmental" superstition against these structures was turned on its head. Marine life had EXPLODED around these huge artificial reefs: A study by LSU's Sea Grant college shows that 85 percent of Louisiana fishing trips involve fishing around these platforms. The same study shows that there's 50 times more marine life around an rigs and pipelines in any given year.
The Flower Garden coral reefs lie off the Louisiana-Texas border. Unlike any of the Florida Keys reefs, they're surrounded by dozens of offshore oil platforms.
These have been pumping away for the past 50 years. Yet according to G.P. Schmahl, a Federal biologist who worked for decades in both places, "The Flower Gardens are much healthier, more pristine off the Louisiana coast than anything in the Florida Keys. It was a surprise to me," he admits. "And I think it's a surprise to most people."
"A key measure of the health of a reef is the amount of area taken up by coral," according to a report by Steve Gittings, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's science coordinator for marine sanctuaries. "Louisiana's Flower Garden boasts nearly 50 percent coral cover. In the Florida Keys it can run as little as 5 percent."
Most of the red snapper you eat in Florida restaurants are caught around Louisiana's oil platforms. We see the Florida-registered boats tied up to them constantly. Sometimes us locals can barely squeeze in.
So here is the bottom line. We can see the price of gasoline continue to rise, and realistically reach five dollars a gallon or more. And we can stand by as the amount of fishing along the Gulf continues to diminish. Or, the nation can follow Louisiana's lead, reduce the price of gasoline, continue an abundance of quality fishing, and dramatically reduce our oil dependence from countries of questionable allegiance.
If the reaction I received along the east coast this week is any indication, Louisiana still has a lot of educating to do. And this is a challenge, hopefully, the new Louisiana Governor and other state leaders will take on. The telling of the post hurricane story was weak and uncoordinated. There is a great opportunity to make amends in a way that will help both Louisiana and the nation as a whole.
-- It is evident that the fortunes of the world's human population, for better or for worse, are inextricably interrelated with the use that is made of energy resources. -- M. King Hubbert
Peace and Justice.
Jim Brown’s column appears weekly, and is published on a number of newspapers and websites throughout Louisiana. You can read past columns by going to Jim’s website at www.jimbrownla.com. Jim’s regular radio show on WRNO, 995fm out of New Orleans can be heard each Sunday from 11:00 am till 1:00 pm.