Oil industry tentacles continue to pervade all things coastal
by Len Bahr, Ph.D.
I call your attention to a feature article in The Advocate by noted coastal writer Bob Marshall, reprinted from TheLens.NOLA.org. Marshall described the results of the recent competition for new ideas in the decades-long struggle to re-engineer the coast, a competition known as Changing Course. The technical authorities interviewed for Marshall’s piece unanimously recommend relocating the river mouth closer to New Orleans and abandoning the bird’s foot delta. This idea is not novel, having been broadly discussed for decades, but without the benefit of multiple physical and simulation modeling efforts and advanced engineering, hydrologic and sediment studies of the river.
Now contrast this article on the relatively straightforward technical challenge to sustain parts of America’s Delta in the face of subsidence and climate change, with the YOOOOGE (Trump lingo) political challenge posed by the virtual stranglehold that the energy industry wields in terms of the state’s coastal policy.
This post is just another in a series of commentaries on the unlikelihood that common sense will prevail in the long run over the short term politics of coastal energy exploitation. My considered opinion tells me that when the oil giants exhaust the most readily recoverable oil and gas resources from coastal and offshore Louisiana they’ll walk away from a depleted and submerged delta skeleton with nothing of value left to protect and restore.
Not surprisingly, on September 5 TheHill.com published an article by Devon Henry that described a push by the non-renewable energy industry to fight Obama energy policy. This push is fully supported by our spineless elected officials, who tell the public they care about the coast while pocketing bucks from big oil. As expected, Louisiana’s two stalwart solons and five of our six congressmen continued their role in the promotion of the myopic strategy of coastal suicide.
On September 14 Bruce Alpert reported in NOLA.com|TheTimes-Picayune that both David Vitter, our senior senator and candidate for governor and his junior colleague Senator Dr. Bill Cassidy planned to testify at a U.S. House Natural Resource Committee field hearing held in NOLA on 9/15 staged to undermine the Obama administration’s socialistic, bureaucratic, anti-jobs energy policy overseen by our Muslim, native Kenyan POTUS. Here’s a quote by Garret Graves, my former boss in Bobby Jindal’s coastal office, now Louisiana’s 6th district congressman — from whose district my zip code was purged by our GOP legislature for being too ‘colorful,’ as in politically diverse.
“This administration’s energy policy appears to have two objectives: cause Louisianians to lose their jobs and continue our dependence on foreign oil,” said Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, a member of the committee. “We have already been through the moratorium and permitorium where federal government shutdown the Gulf of Mexico’s energy fields. Now they have posed illogical regulations on the offshore industry that will result in less production, more supply boats tied up and more people losing their energy jobs.”
On September 14 The Advocate published an anti-coastal guest rant by Lisa A. Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform and Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), and former Jindal chief of staff. This opinion piece decries Louisiana’s slide from Sportsman’s Paradise to trial lawyers’ Valhalla. According to Rickard and Waguespack, Louisiana’s legal climate is stifling unfettered economic development. Their argument is primarily based on what they would characterize as the frivolous and unwarranted lawsuit brought by the South Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) against oil and gas companies for trumped up damages to the coast, falsely blamed on energy exploration and production.
Here’s the quote I’m referring to, including the telling phrase (highlighted by moi):
…there is the ongoing problem of “legacy” lawsuits, where plaintiffs seek millions of dollars from oil and gas producers for alleged environmental damage. In these cases, plaintiffs are not required to prove specific damages by companies, and they are not required to spend settlement dollars on actual cleanups…
Another memorable quote refers to the Louisiana court system as being ‘swamped’ by litigation. Well, Rickard and Waguespack can perhaps take heart that we won’t forever be swamped with actual swamps, which are in rapid decline, thanks in part to the industry that pays these two shills their fat salaries.
The September 15 committee field hearing referred to above was covered by Richard Thompson for The Advocate on September 16. True to form, Louisiana’s pols agreed that proposed regulations to reduce the risks of offshore drilling in ever deeper waters are unnecessary — that the industry is perfectly capable of regulating itself.
On the subject of conflicts of interest re Louisana’s coastal and energy policy, a miscellaneous collection of institutions continues to proliferate, all nominally dedicated to the salvation of coastal Louisiana. These groups appear to have overlapping, competing and redundant missions and authorities but of greater concern are their fiscal ties to the energy industry.
Recent examples include the LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio, and the coastal design competition called Changing Course, referred to above in Marshall’s article. This competition was apparently created by the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition (another example of a group with ambiguous interests). The web sites of these rump organizations shows a consistent pattern of oil and gas sponsorship, which implies less than objective policy recommendations. LCSS is sponsored by Chevron and Changing Course by Royal Dutch Shell.
In its September-October 2015 issue, Louisiana Life published a blurb about the deepest oil well ever drilled in the Gulf of Mexico, which is under construction. Here’s the relevant quote:
Royal Dutch Shell solidified its long-term commitment in the Gulf of Mexico recently, announcing it will proceed with development of the largest deepwater platform in the Gulf. The project, to be located about 8.0 miles off the Louisiana coast in 7,200 feet of water, has been dubbed Appomattox and could begin operating in 2020. Analysts estimate the installation may cost $2 billion to complete, and Shell estimates it could produce as much as 175,000 barrels of oil daily at peak performance. The company said that design improvements in the platform will keep the project’s break-even cost to about $55 per barrel of crude, making it feasible even in periods of relatively low oil prices.
Finally, the arguments by our elected officials for more aggressive domestic oil and gas production seem a little untimely, based on the low current market value of a barrel of crude oil (~$48). If there’s a glut on the market wouldnt leaving crude oi in the ground make more sense?
The fact that oil and gas brokers are investing $2 billion in a well that isn’t even close to breaking even with the current market price of crude oil is a sign that the obsequious ‘Step and Fetchit’ attitude of Louisiana pols with respect to big oil is wildly inappropriate In other words, they ain’t leaving ’til the well runs dry, no matter what our guys say or do.