The Oil Industry and the Gulf Coast: A Symbiotic Relationship

By: Allana Morawski

Anyone outside Louisiana most likely perceives the relationship between the Gulf States and “Big Oil” companies like British Petroleum (BP), as hostile and strained, especially in the wake of the BP oil spill. But the fact is, oil is as much a part of the Louisiana landscape as alligators and gumbo.

The residents of Louisiana, and the Gulf states accept offshore drilling as “both a blessing and a curse,” according to Dr. Bob Thomas, director of Loyola’s Center for Environmental Communication. The oil industry impacts, yet is intertwined with several aspects of the livelihoods of the people of this region — from the economy, to the people, to the fishing industry, to the environment. The states rely on the income from royalty payments made by the companies for drilling off their shores. The drilling rigs and related jobs provide work for many residents of the Gulf States.

Windell Curole, general manager of the South Lafourche Levee District and leading wetlands expert, says the moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico may do more harm than good to the economy and productivity of Louisiana. In fact, 90 percent of all offshore oil comes into the US through Port Fourchon, La., where residents, including Curole, work or have worked on both the rigs and in the fishing industry. Although the BP oil crisis has clearly created a negative impact on the seafood industry in the Gulf, residents accept this risk as a tradeoff in order to sustain their livlihood.

Residents agree that regulations need to protect the environment from future accidents, so that fishing and oil industries to survive in the same realm. Cynthia Sarthou explains that for the benefit of both parties, there is a need to “differentiate between the bad behavior of the industry, and the industry itself.”

Despite the extensive coverage on the spill, it is easy to overlook the perspective of the residents of the Gulf States. The oil companies and the lives of individuals in this region are intricately intertwined. It would be impossible to understand one without understanding the other. The Gulf states and the Federal government are now beginning to grasp the urgency of the need to refine this industry. However, residents of the Gulf States understand the fine balance between necessary legislative regulation and hindering the benefits of the industry, such as royalties to the Gulf States and affordable energy for US citizens. The January 11th release of President Obama’s final report on the BP oil disaster draws attention to the necessity of reforming controls placed on oil companies and the future of the industry.

But some Gulf State legislators, such as John Young, president of Jefferson Parish in Louisiana, took issue, according to an Associated Press interview. “I don’t want the Federal government to overreact and now put additional regulations that cripple the oil industry.”

Clearly the relationship between the residents of the Gulf States and the oil companies will continue to be symbiotic, despite dramatic events of late. But the larger issue becomes maintaining the economic balance while sustaining fisheries and protecting the vanishing coastline in this region.

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About allanamorawski

International Studies major, with a minor in History and in Spanish, currently at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX.
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