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Trading blood for oil May 9, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, Acadian, Cajun, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“We’re all of us, all of us, stained with this blood. These wetlands were once holy, full of the bounty of God.”
— Sebastian Couteau

In Raymond “Moose” Jackson’s powerful play Loup Garou, Sebastian Couteau’s transformation into the loup garou, the Cajun version of a werewolf, is a powerful metaphor for the deal all of coastal Louisiana made with devil oil, welcoming the work and money even as it destroyed the land beneath their feet–compressing 5,000 years of geologic subsidence into a century of erosion as the marshes were slashed by exploration canals.

The offshore rigs were often seen as a bountiful addition, unnatural reefs favored by sports fishermen, and the explosion of employment allowed a people who had long lived on the margin to have some of the things they saw on their new TVs, to participate in the America scheme.

Today’s Times-Picayune offers a glimpse into the relationship of the coastal communities to the oil industry. It seems a fair enough story, given what I know of the history. Too many people have prospered by trading their time between oil work and their traditional fisheries. The anger in the coast so far has been limited to the inept and bureaucratic response of BP and their contractors, their slowness to hire the people who once led them to the in-shore oil because they didn’t have the proper HazMat training required by the government and the insurance companies (familiar villains to everyone on the Hurricane Coast).

I have to wonder how long that comity will last. Here is another story from today’s paper, the consequence of the oil’s steady drift to the west. If it will truly take two, three, maybe four months to put a relief well in place and the entire coast is poisoned with oil, when the oyster beds and shrimping and wild crawfish seasons are closed for years, then BP follows the Exxon model and fights any compensation for 20 years, will they still feel the same?

Another story from today. I think I need to take a break and go read the funnies:

“Two decades after the Exxon Valdez spilled almost 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound, the herring still have not come back.
Without that cornerstone species, the commercial fishing season now starts two months later, in May instead of March. Oil still wells up in the little pits dug by sea otters as they forage for clams. “

“Oil accident Gulf” brings up 6,770 Google News hits but what happened here was not an accident. It was inevitable. Just look at this map and imagine the odds. Throw in our blind devotion to corporate capitalism, where every decision must be weighed carefully against the bottom line, trusting the lawyers to protect the stockholders from their agent’s bad decisions for production over safety, and it was going to happen. When, not if.

Perhaps BP will finally get one of their emergency fixes to work, but no one has tried any of what’s being done at 5,000 feet before. We may have to wait months for the relief well while the oil slowly migrates on shore and fouls the fishing grounds that feed not just Louisiana but a quarter of the nation’s appetite for seafood. Still, this will not be the whole story, not even an act but just one small event–something Shakespeare would have left off-stage for the characters to discuss like the great battles of his histories–because it is not the main story. This is just one more nail in the coffin the United States has been building for coastal Louisiana for years.

To quote myself once again in the piece from 2006 I just reposted here last week: I recommend you take the time to read Mike Tidwell’s Bayou Farewell or Christopher Hallowell’s Holding Back the Sea. Within this generation it will all be gone, not through an inexorable process of natural erosion–that would take another thousand years or two–but by a combination of choice greed and willful ignorance of the costs of what man has wrought.

And when the fisherman begin to realize that we are drilling in 5,000 feet because the world’s oil is playing out, that their grandchildren will have neither fishing nor oil to rely on and that the land they grew up on and around will be open water, will they still bite their tongues and hope for clean-up work? Maybe not. Man is a voracious and ambitious predator, the one species that managed to colonize every niche of the world save Antarctica. When the game and forage is gone, we pack up and move on to the next valley.

Perhaps all we will leave behind of what was once Louisiana will be the equivalent of Cherokee gift shops and the penned bison at stops along the highway in North Dakota, along with some dusty books in the library no one checks out any more. In the next Acadian diaspora will the children will have no more clear recollection of their ancestor’s lives than I have of the plantation lifestyle of a few of my own long-gone elders? I think of the two pictures that hang in my house of men who came to Louisiana from Haiti from after the slave uprising. I know their names, and at least a tiny bit of their story. My children look at their frock coats and one’s wig and call them Louis and Clark.

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

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