Gulf Residents Scared Oil Industry Will Leave: Will We Ever Break Our Abusive Relationship With Oil?
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The vast majority of the people who live in southern Louisiana share the views of Lirette and Lepitich. During an eight-day reporting trip to the oil-affected region I conducted nearly 20 interviews, and only two people expressed support for the moratorium on offshore drilling -- and even those individuals were equivocal. If you're reading this in Santa Barbara or Boston, that opinion might sound odd. Hasn't the BP gusher imperiled, as we hear time and again, Louisianans' "entire way of life"? Sure. But here's the rub: Oil and gas is also a way of life in southern Louisiana. On the bayou, fishin' and oil are kissin' cousins.
"I don't know anyone who don't work in seafood or oil and gas or government," Brad Blanchard, a former operator of an offshore rig resupply ship company and now a co-owner of an exclusive hunting and fishing lodge told me as we sped through the marshes on his boat. When I asked him what he thought of the moratorium, Blanchard said that, with the fishing industry paralyzed, the worst thing that could happen now would be a loss of oil field jobs: "If BP leaves, it will be widespread panic."
Brad's oldest brother is Dean Blanchard, a shrimp baron in Grand Isle who is one of the biggest shrimp packers in the state. Dean has suffered what he estimates to be millions of dollars in lost revenues due to the spill, and with his knack for Huey Long-like fiery populism he has appeared everywhere from Fox News to Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now!" Brad has also taken a big hit due to the spill. Typically his lodge would be fully booked with outdoorsmen paying up to $400 a night for guided fishing expeditions; now, his bayou resort is empty. But neither of the Blanchard brothers supports a stop to offshore drilling. "Oil is a fact of life," Brad told me. "We've made it a fact of life."
Clint Guidry, president of the Louisiana Shrimpers Association, has a similar take. "We have co-existed with oil companies here for the last sixty years," he told me. "It's been an uneasy relationship at times, but mostly it's worked. Some of us do seasonal work in the oil and gas, during the winter we go work in the refineries."
Guidry, 62, has run his own shrimp boat since he was 14 years old, a craft he learned from his father. Over the years he has also worked for a range of oil and gas companies, including Brown and Root, Amaco, Hess and BP. "Until we have an alternative energy source that this country is going to pursue with passion and money, we have no choice," he said. "We have to have oil. If we were to shut down oil production and gas production, New York City would freeze and also Washington, DC. Think about that one, sir."
What about those who have taken the worst beating, people like Clarice Friloux, a part-time shrimp boat deckhand and activist member of the United Houma Nation, a Native American tribe. The remaining indigenous people in southern Louisiana are among those hit hardest by the oil blowout, as they are especially dependent on fishing, which for them represents a connection to their traditional cultures. They also have suffered a long history of environmental injustice in the region. Friloux's community, the unincorporated town of Grandbois, has a large oil field waste site located right at its edge. Drilling fluids and other byproducts of the extraction industry are taken there and simply piled under the sun. Friloux fought for years to shut the disposal facility, and finally reached an out-of-court settlement with Exxon, which manages the operation. She is no stranger to the negligence of the oil and gas industry. Yet she fears the economic consequences of stopping offshore drilling.