Gulf Residents Scared Oil Industry Will Leave: Will We Ever Break Our Abusive Relationship With Oil?
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Fair enough -- and I'm inclined to agree. But then I spent a couple of days in Houma, Louisiana, a small city that revolves around the oil and gas business. The place is filled with small companies and mom-and-pop outfits that provide services and parts to the oil giants -- the "small wheels that keep the big wheels turning," as one oil worker put it to me. People in Houma understand -- in a kind of vague, intellectual way -- that we need to move away from fossil fuels. But they will never make that break unless they have other options.
"Half of my family is in oil and gas, and half of my family is in seafood," Mike Voisin (pronounced Wa-zan), a sixth-generation oysterman whose shucking warehouse is based in Houma, said to me. During a conversation in his office, Voisin, a soft-spoken, gray-bearded man, struck me as an especially thoughtful person who has clearly spent a lot of time thinking about how best to balance the area's economy. He is worried about the reliance on fossil fuels: "It's scary that we're so dependent on something." He supports the creation of a clean energy economy: "I do think at some point alternative fuels will make their way into the market such that they will be the affordable one and will drive our economy. What will it look like if we can harvest the sun, if we can gather the winds?" And at the same time, aware of how much his community depends on the fossil fuel industry, he is skeptical of a green economy happening anytime soon: "What would it be like if we don't have oil and gas here? We will find out someday. ... I don't think we will see it our lifetimes. But maybe our kids' kids' kids will."
He then said, "People aren't afraid to quit -- it's that the alternatives don't exist. We've kind of gotten on blinders, and we've got to change that. And we know we have to change that. But in the interim there is this infrastructure built up to support that."
I got a better sense of what Mike Voisin meant by blinders, what he meant by a built infrastructure, as soon as I left his warehouse. Standing in his oyster shell-strewn loading yard, the main thing I could see was a pair of 70-feet-tall drilling platforms dry-docked at his neighbor, Narbor's Offshore Corporation. The platforms presumably were undergoing repairs and were either on their way in from, or on their way out to, the gulf waters. Oil, it seemed, was everywhere.
Jason Mark is the editor of Earth Island Journal and a co-author of "Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots."