Reflections on an Oil Spill: A New Orleans Native Speaks Out

BP announced last week that it will never again try to produce oil from the well where the Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred. “The right thing to do is permanently plug this well, and that’s what we will do,” said Doug Suttles, BP chief operating officer. Apparently, the right thing doesn’t include the cessation of drilling elsewhere in the same reservoir, which they have stated they plan to continue.

Have they, and we as a nation, learned nothing from this disaster? Here are some questions to ask ourselves now. Can we be assured that an oil spill of this magnitude will never happen again? Is there a fail-proof method way of extracting oil from deep water wells?

I was born in New Orleans. My family moved, along with much of their community, to Los Angeles when I was a child, but New Orleans and Louisiana stays in your blood; once it gets hold of you, it never lets go. My father made almost yearly visits there throughout his life. One of my grandmother’s last requests before she died, was to visit New Orleans. Now my mother, who is in her 80’s, is for asking the same thing.

On a summer trip to New Orleans, when I was a teenager, and old enough to begin noticing these things, I marveled at the low price of shrimp in the local grocery stores. My Uncle JuJune (yes, we have colorful names) responded “hell, they’ll just give ‘em away if you drive a pick up truck down to the Gulf, they got so much of it.” Unfortunately, they are not quite so plentiful now.

While over a third of all the seafood consumed in this country comes from the Gulf, there have been problems. Residual chemical fertilizers, used in the corn and wheat fields of the heartland, wash down the Mississippi River causing algae blooms resulting in huge dead zones in the Gulf. Still, the commercial fishing industry in the state accounts for over 300 million dollars of the state’s economy. In the past couple of years, Gulf Coast oysters have picked up the slack in the oyster market, as there have been problems with Chesapeake Bay oysters. And, as most any Southerner will tell you, Gulf shrimp and oysters have a sweet, delicate flavor unique to the area, because of the microorganisms in the Gulf they eat.

The coastline of Louisiana makes up 40-45% of all wetlands in the lower 48 states, and they have historically offered a natural buffer to the hurricanes that hit the region. They are also home to a vast array of wildlife.

It’s been badly damaged from heavy equipment trucked down to the Gulf, as well as rising ocean waters.

There are only a few industries in the towns and villages along the Louisiana coastline: fishing, tourism (which is largely a subsection of fishing), and of course, oil. Drive a bit further north to New Orleans, and it doesn’t get much better.

On a visit there five months after Hurricane Katrina hit, I met a young college aged couple with whom I shared dinner at a French Quarter restaurant. The young man was from Chauvin, a village near the Gulf where most of the men worked on oil rigs. His date was a New Orleans native. We talked late into the night touching on, among other things, whether they felt they could stay in Louisiana. There was a palpable sadness in the air, as the young woman concluded she could not. She is not alone. This past fall, a young cousin of mine chose to move to Los Angeles to begin her career after graduating from college. When I asked her why, she stated “there’s just nothing down there for me.”

I often find myself passionately defending New Orleans, against those who wonder why anyone would want to live there, so here goes:

Southern Louisiana is home to a vibrant culture, one of lively music, a wonderful cuisine (arguably the first major regional one in this country), a deeply rooted religious tradition, with its own language and customs; and one that values family and community above anything. One of, if not the most unique, in a country increasingly plagued with a commercial culture of “sameness.”

It’s a gift to history buffs, writers, musicians, and food lovers. Southern Louisiana has given much more to this nation than this nation has given back. The nation would never have been built without the port of New Orleans at the mouth of the Mississippi. It was the major port of entry and highway leading into the heartland of this continent since the beginning of Europeans’ settling here, before there was a railroad, before there was an interstate highway system, and it remains an important port today.

Andrew Jackson understood that, as did the British who remained encamped at the mouth of Lake Bourne, even after a treaty was signed ending the War of 1812. Realizing how vital New Orleans was to our emerging nation, Jackson continued a fierce fight to beat back garrisons of British soldiers. His victory there catapulted him to the Presidency.

So I would offer one final question we need to ask ourselves now. Are we willing to continue sacrificing this vital area to further sate our gluttony for oil?

5 thoughts on “Reflections on an Oil Spill: A New Orleans Native Speaks Out

  1. I’ve been driving a Prius for years, and if we had more fuel efficient cars, I would be driving one of those. We need to commit to alternative methods of fuel, and reducing our fuel consumption, or none of us will be driving to the beach for a vacation ever again. Anyone who can look at the pics of the coast of Louisiana now and not be deeply disturbed hasn’t much of a heart or mind.

  2. Gisele, I wholeheartedly agree with you that we need to commit to alternative methods of fuel. For someone to say “quit complaining or stop driving” is disingenuous unless they live in the woods and don’t use ANY electricity or drive a car or use any mode of transportation whatsoever.

  3. Thanks, Julie.

    You know, a few years back I traded in an Explorer for mt Prius. I cut my personal fuel consumption by about 60%. At the beginning of this crisis, I heard Richard Shorter, of Defenders of Wildlife, say if we could increase fuel efficiency by 4% per year, we could reduce our consumption of oil by 2.5 million gallons a day. Yet I still see Navigators, Expedition, Excursions and the like all around me on the road. It all comes down to personal choices.

  4. Tells you something that if you want to get off petroleum your only option is not to drive. Yet most places we live require people to drive at least some of the time. That tells you how corrupt and broken our system is. You’d think by now there would be another way to power a car given the way we buy it from hostile places and how it is ruining the earth but instead, incredibly, we subsidize oil so heavily nothing else can compete.

    We use our armed forces to protect the supply of oil. The money for the oil goes to people who hate us, so we have to spend more money fighting them. We tolerate all the pollution that comes from drilling it, refining it and burning it. And to think after all that – we pay for it! You’d think it would be free given all we do to make it possible to use.

    You have every right to complain and demand options that don’t require oil. We should all be doing that. We should also be supporting taxes on oil to cover all the costs associated with it. People like @YourFuture should pay at the pump for all the costs related to oil, or they should shut up.