Rising Tide 7 :: Oil and Water
On August 29, 2012, South Louisiana underwent a sobering exercise in deja vu when Hurricane Isaac’s storm surge nearly matched that of Katrina causing major damage outside of the federal levee system and catching many residents by surprise. Was Isaac an aberration or was it a “reality check” for a region whose decimated coastal wetlands no longer protect inhabited areas from even the most common storms?
When Isaac turned out traces of the recent BP Macondo oil disaster with its surge it left a calling card of one of a main contributor to the growing threat to coastal communities. According to the Times-Picayune’s landmark 2002 special report, Washing Away, oil and gas exploration has been responsible for “a third to more than half of the erosion that has occurred along Louisiana’s coast in the past 100 years, when more than 1 million acres of Louisiana’s coast, mostly wetlands, have eroded — an area the size of Rhode Island.”
The boom rush to develop Louisiana’s oil and gas wealth has taken a toll not only on the land itself but also on the people and wildlife who inhabit it. Coastal residents, fisherman, and clean up workers report chronic health impacts of exposure to oil and chemicals associated with its production. And despite the barrage of BP funded advertising from tourism promoters, many questions remain about the health of coastal fisheries as well as the consequences of consuming their product.
In 2012 a salt dome operated by a gas production company collapsed into a chemical sinkhole demonstrating once again the risks the industry poses to nearby communities do not exist only in myth and stories. The consequences of exploiting Louisiana’s vast mineral wealth in oil and gas are threatening to destroy its natural wealth in wildlife, fisheries, and the communities built around them. Can Louisiana find a way to tame the hazards of an economy that mixes oil and water? Or is it already too late?