Louisiana citizens wise up to pipeline dangers


For most of the last eight decades or so that Big Oil’s had its way with the state of Louisiana, it was rare — unheard of, really — for local residents to oppose an energy-related project. For most folks, environmentalism — opposing new drilling or unsightly pipelines in your backyard — was something that maybe “the Yankees” did, but not Louisianans. And the main reason was a simple four-letter word: Jobs. As the 20th Century unfolded across the bayou, and as many of the traditional touchstones of culture across Cajun country faded, the energy field was the one place where a man (because it was mostly men) could make the kind of living to raise his family in a middle-class lifestyle. To be sure, it could also be brutal and dangerous work — especially working on an offshore rig — but if you survived the pay made up for it.

But times have changed. Maybe part of it is that the energy companies have broken so many of their promises here in Louisiana, whether it’s been to clean up their drilling sites or restore all the wetlands that they’ve destroyed, or — more recently — on the jobs front. The local economy isn’t quite as dependent on oil and gas jobs as it used to be, and — given the fragility of Louisiana’s coastal environment — residents are starting to focus more on the major risks of oil over-development, and less upon the often transitory economic rewards. Today, the plan to run a major oil pipeline through the heart of the sensitive Atchafalaya Basin is drawing major opposition in parts of northern Louisiana:

A newly formed Shreveport environmental activist group plans to travel to Baton Rouge to protest an incoming pipeline that threatens parts of the state’s wetlands.

North Louisiana for Climate Justice — Shreveport-Bossier’s newest environmental watchdog group — was created on Friday at the Whole Foods Market in Shreveport. Currently, about a dozen members strong, the group’s first mission is to tackle the Bayou Bridge Pipeline project at a Jan. 12 public hearing in Baton Rouge.

“The purpose of this trip is to gather information and make connections with allies,” said Ron Hagar, a concerned citizen from Shreveport.

Members have different reasons for protesting the pipeline — a $670 million, 162 mile-long route that will carry an estimated 280,000 barrels of oil through 11 southern Louisiana parishes. The pipeline is backed by Energy Transfer Partners, Inc, the same company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.

The appeal of jobs has clearly lost its allure for these activists:

Several members of the group had relatives or children whose jobs are in the oil and gas industry. The proposed pipeline itself is expected to bring in at least 1,500 temporary construction jobs to surrounding regions.

But Cassie McDaniel, a Keithville resident who attended the meeting and whose son worked in the oil and gas industry, said she was willing to “go to battle” over the cause and that the focus of the issue needs to be re-framed.

“It’s not enough to bring a job in. How long are those jobs going to stay here?” she said. “When people talk about jobs, we need to refocus on whether those jobs are going to be permanent.”

This is a highly positive development, and it hasn’t happened overnight — or in a vacuum. For many Louisiana residents, the pain of the Deepwater Horizon spill and what that did to the Gulf of Mexico still burns. Also, a lot of courageous activists from groups like the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and, more recently, Gen. Russel Honore’s Green Army have helped raise environmental consciousness across the state. Here’s hoping that the 21st Century can be remembered as the time that the people took Louisiana back from Big Oil.

Read more about the forming opposition to the Louisiana pipeline from the Shreveport Times: http://www.shreveporttimes.com/story/news/2016/12/30/not-my-bayou-local-group-prepares-protest-southern-louisiana-pipeline/95995580/

Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on Americahttp://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2017 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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