Friday, August 6, 2010

A Cautionary Tale

I have long been struck by the loss of Louisiana's precious wetlands.  It is a story that is getting a great deal of attention in the national press with the BP oil spill disaster, but the seeds for the real disaster were sewn several generations ago.  This week, New Orleans Times Picayune outdoors writer Bob Marshall penned a four-part series on the decline of Delacroix Island, which lies southeast of New Orleans in St. Bernard Parish.  Once a self-sufficient and thriving town that lived off the bounty of the land, Delacroix is now a withering strip of land staring down its own demise.

I urge you to read Bob Marshall's series on Delacroix Island. It is beautifully written and striking in its impact.  Bob Marshall is a true conservationist, as those who truly appreciate the bounty that nature provides, especially through fishing and hunting, should be. Here is a link to the stories while they still are posted:

While south Louisiana is a little off topic for a Haynesville-centric web site, the lesson is important and it applies to the whole domestic natural gas industry and all of its stakeholders.  Louisiana wetlands were  irreparably damaged by oil and gas development.  There were other contributing causes, such as building levees and dams along the length of the Mississippi River, but nothing else hastened the damage to the wetlands like oil and gas drilling.  We as a state put short-term gain ahead of long-term impacts. We have never held the energy companies accountable for the environmental damage and still don't in any meaningful way to this day.
With the advent of shale drilling, we are suddenly faced with a new energy rush.  East Texas and north Louisiana have seen fairly intense drilling for most of the past century, but drilling will be expanding into more pristine areas of the country.  Making the most news is the Marcellus Shale, which is expanding drilling into picturesque regions of Pennsylvania and New York (if and when a drilling moratorium is lifted).

The deafening complaints coming from many residents and environmentalists is hard to listen to because much of it is driven by misinformation fueled by "advocacy journalism" and deliberate hyperbole like the movie "Gasland."  But there is a kernel of truth in all of this (and it has nothing to do with fracking contaminating water!).  What can't be overlooked is the need to balance the environment and the health and well-being of those who live in the region with the economic benefit of gas drilling.  If drilling is not done in a manner responsible to all stakeholders, it will be hard to stuff the proverbial genie back in the bottle.

In other words, it is better to address the big issues on the front end rather than trying to fix damage later.  I just wish the discussion could be more calm and rational, but that might be expecting too much in this confrontational age in which we find ourselves. The people of the Appalachian region already should know this lesson, having seen the coal industry foul the landscape and taint the drinking water of the region for generations.  I'd like to believe that the movement against natural gas in the region is a manifestation of this unfortunate education and not the blind following of those deliberately spewing misinformation, but I have my concerns.

I have tried to explain the complex relationship between south Louisiana and the oil and gas industry to people elsewhere in the country. It's hard to understand if you don't live it.  Perhaps the folks in West Virginia and Pennsylvania who live with the coal industry can chime in.)  But the important lesson is that it is better to prevent a problem now than try to fix it later.  I've noted efforts by companies like Exco Resources to minimize their impacts, but the larger balance has to be struck between the state regulators and the industry.  There will always be risks, but if accountability and responsibility are determined on the front end, the risks will be lessened.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very well stated, Robert. We have sold our souls for King Oil, and are left with a shattered coastline. I hope the producers of shale gas are better stewards of our land. In any event, we the stakeholders should make sure they are.