Saturday, July 24, 2010

Fear-Fanned Loathing In Lafayette

Wednesday, July 21, 2010, will go down as the high-water mark of in-state efforts to end the Gulf of Mexico deep water drilling moratorium imposed by the Obama administration in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent blowout.

About 11,000 people turned out at the Lafayette Cajundome for the "Rally for Economic Survival." Getting that many people to turnout for anything other than a sporting event in Louisiana takes some doing. But, the 'doing' that got them there reveals that opponents of the moratorium are engaged in blatant and obvious fear mongering, and have frittered away what little credibility they had on the issue with the lies and distortions included in statements made leading up to and during the event.

Make no mistake about it, what happened in Lafayette on Wednesday was an anti-Obama political rally organized by the oil and gas industry and fronted by Governor Bobby Jindal and his hand-picked interim Lieutenant Governor, Scott Angelle. Angelle was among friends, having run the Department of Natural Resources until Jindal elevated him this spring. Republican Lieutenant Governor candidate Sammy Kershaw provided entertainment (not sure if he just sang or if he read from his federal tax liens, too).

There was steady buildup leading up to the event. In Lafayette, the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce lead the drive to build attendance. Ultimately, all of Lafayette's mainstream media fell in line, becoming virtual (if not outright) partners in the promotion of the event. The Daily Advertiser ran a front page editorial calling for an end of the moratorium on the day of the event. ABC affiliate KATC's station manager delivered an on-air editorial calling for an end to the moratorium. Radio stations did live remotes from the event.

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

This buildup was based, in fact, on a carefully orchestrated distortion of what the moratorium is, then building a statistical house of cards atop those distortions. The Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA), and its president Don Briggs, were prime movers in the effort to ramp up the climate of economic crisis that helped produce the turnout in Lafayette. Briggs is a long-time player in the Lafayette business community, serving on the board of the Lafayette Chamber. LOGA and Briggs have long-standing ties with the Lafayette Economic Development Authority (LEDA) and the LSU Center for Energy Studies, both of which produced economic reports painting horrific stories of the potential impact of a six-month moratorium.

The advisory council for the LSU Center for Energy Studies gives the distinct impression that this is an advocacy group hiding inside academia. This must be where the industry gathers when Lafayette's Petroleum Club is booked. It is not surprising that the rally included a presentation from the Center and the picture painted was bleak.

Do you think they would have been allowed to make a presentation that said anything different? No. Only the finest store-bought statistics were allowed at this privately-funded propaganda event.

The premise of all the pre-event propaganda and the presentations made during the rally is that the Obama administration has shutdown all drilling in the Gulf of Mexico — not just deep water drilling — and that the moratorium will become permanent.  This might be good short-term politics, but it is not supported by the facts.

And while companies like Diamond Drilling have made a big show about moving two rigs out of the Gulf of Mexico to other drilling locales, the fact is that decisions on when and where to drill in permitted waters are made by the big oil companies — not by the drilling companies, not by the service companies, and not by lobbying groups.

What are the big oil companies thinking? They plan to resume drilling in the Gulf of Mexico once the moratorium is over and new rules are promulgated. That announcement was made on the same day as the rally, but strangely did not get much press coverage in south Louisiana.

Governor Bobby Jindal has been milking the BP Gulf Gusher for all the political gain he can get from it, having spent almost three months on the coast chasing down cameras and microphones for opportunities to criticize the federal response to the industry-caused disaster. With a presentation made at the rally, Jindal has apparently put the Louisiana Workforce Commission to work in advancing his political agenda.

The thrust of all of this is that economic ruin will result from the moratorium. To paint this picture, the impact of the oil and gas industry must be inflated and the discrete segments within the industry must be ignored.

Enter the Louisiana Workforce Commission. In a presentation on the rally website (see graphic), the commission includes people who work at "Gasoline Stations" to ramp up the employment numbers of the industry in the state. According to the June employment report issued by the LWC, this adds 18,600 workers to the "industry" payrolls. That means convenience store cashiers and clerks are considered part of the energy industry.

It is also worth noting that, according to the LCW's official job statistics for June (page 8 in the PDF), those 18,600 gasoline station workers out number all of the people engaged in oil and gas drilling and extraction in Louisiana. That is no quirk due to the moratorium. This has been the case in every report this year.

Are gasoline station workers affected by the moratorium? No. But, it heightens the purported importance of the industry of the state's economy and, thus, fits nicely within propaganda objectives of the conference organizers.

Off The Deep End

People say things in unscripted moments that they later sometimes regret. So, in an attempt to provide opponents of the moratorium the kind of fairness they will not provide supporters of the moratorium, this segment will focus on the prepared written statements by Rally organizers which The Daily Advertiser published on the morning of the event.

Reading these, it becomes clear that truth was among the first casualties in the ramp up for the rally.  These otherwise staid community and business leaders have been scared witless by what they have been told about the economic impact of the deep water drilling moratorium. They are spouting gibberish based on lies they've been sold.

The statement by Don Briggs is a clear example of how the facts are conflated and mixed to create a potential outcome that has no basis in reality. Here are the first two paragraphs:
Louisiana's oil and gas industry has a more than $70 billion annual impact. The industry supports more than 15 percent of household income in the state — $12.7 billion annually.
The continuing moratorium on offshore drilling affects many more people than the 320,000 working jobs in Louisiana supported by the oil and gas industry. As a result, it also affects far more than the 58,000 Louisianans working in extraction, refining and pipeline jobs.
Reading the first paragraph, one is left with the inescapable conclusion that the deep water drilling moratorium is going to wipe out the oil and gas industry in Louisiana. Someone apparently forgot to tell the industry. According to a chart on LOGA's website, there were 184 active drilling rigs in Louisiana last week. This is almost two months into the moratorium. Baker Hughes, Inc., which provides its own count, said there was more drilling activity in Louisiana last week than there was a month ago.

If anyone knows this, it is Mr. Briggs. After all, it is his job and that of his organization to know the Louisiana oil and gas industry. Drilling activity has surged in the Haynesville Trend area of northwest Louisiana. Yet, Mr. Briggs insists on pretending that the deep water drilling moratorium threatens the entire industry in the state.

This fundamental dishonesty undermines legitimate concerns about the economic impact of the moratorium. Yet, this failure to be content with the facts is rampant in the public statements and presentations given in support of the rally and against the moratorium.

Then there is the matter of the jobs. Briggs' second paragraph would lead one to believe that the moratorium on deep water drilling threatens to wipe out, at the very least, all of the jobs related to "extraction, refining and pipeline" work. The Louisiana Workforce Commission's Monthly Employment Bulletin does not break out jobs according to the categories Briggs uses, meaning there is no ready way to verify his numbers other than, you guessed it, relying on the estimates of industry groups like LOGA— a sponsor of the rally and among the leading industry opponents of the moratorium.

Another moratorium opponent given space in The Daily Advertiser is Ovide N. Mercure Jr., Controller of Frederick's Machine and Tool.

Mr. Mercure writes:
Our accidents are tragic and our mistakes are costly, so we work hard to ensure they don't happen. The industry is one of the most heavily regulated in existence. Penalizing an entire industry for the failures of a single company will be catastrophic for your families and neighbors.
Actually, the deep water drilling industry was among the least regulated deep water areas of operation in the world. Operating under rules made during the Bush/Cheney years, the industry wrote their own rules in the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, many of the safety rules the industry said it did not need to use in the Gulf of Mexico are safety rules they are required to meet in deep water drilling operations in the North Sea and other locales.

We heard two things repeatedly throughout the 85 days that the well gushed uncontrollably into the Gulf: 1) the best minds in the industry were helping BP try to deal with the blowout; and, 2) the various approaches used to try to cap the well had been used successfully in shallow waters but "never before at this depth."

Rob Guidry, President and CEO of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, claims the win, though, for most outlandish statement when he wrote in The Daily Advertiser, the following:
President Barack Obama has placed economic sanctions on Louisiana, and eventually the United States, beyond those imposed on Iran!
Obama's moratorium on oil and gas drilling is already negatively impacting the jobs of our families and friends. Tens of thousands more jobs will be lost on a daily basis as the irrational moratorium continues.
A temporary moratorium on deep water drilling is worse than U.S. sanctions on Iran? Proof please! Have assets been frozen? Have accounts been seized? Have companies been banned from doing business in Louisiana?

Mr. Guidry is a good man, but he's got a head full of bad information.

Some of those ideas might be coming from Mr. Briggs who sits on the Lafayette Chamber's Board of Directors. Or they might have come from David H. Welch, the President and CEO of Stone Energy, and chairman of the Chamber's Board of Directors. According to Forbes magazine, Mr. Welch is a man with deep ties to deep water drilling, BP. He's also got extensive ties with the energy industry as a whole, serving as a director of the National Ocean Industries Association. It's just a simple twist of fate that this year the Lafayette Chamber would be headed by a man with such a deep history with BP and its various North American operations.

Return to Business As Usual ASAP!

What the rally and the push to end the moratorium are about is an attempt by the oil field service industry and the political leaders dependent upon them for campaign financing to get back to business as usual in the Gulf of Mexico just as quickly as possible. Interestingly, organizers did not meet their goal of getting 15,000 people to attend. Some local television stations were predicting 20,000 attendees with spillover being shuffled into the Cajundome Convention Center next door. Didn't happen.

That means getting back to destroying Louisiana's coast at the alarming, but less conspicuous rate of a football field every 38 minutes. The people who are making the push are careful to preface their call with the obligatory nods of acknowledgment to the 11 workers lost in the original explosion on the Deepwater Horizon and the damage all of the resulting gushed oil is causing to the coast, to fisheries, to fishing families, etc.

But, really, what the push is about is saying that their right to wreck the Gulf and our coast trumps the interests of all others. Nothing is more sacred than their right to make money off what is essentially a colonial extractive operation where workers are expendable and the comparable pittance in royalty money and taxes directed to property owners and the state is part of the cost of making people in other parts of the world wealthy.

Oil and natural gas are essential parts of our economy. But, the BP Gulf Gusher is a defining moment that demands that we change the way we live — the way we power our homes, our vehicles, and our way of life. There is no such thing as cheap oil any more. What happened to BP can happen to other companies drilling in such deep water where margins for error are so tight and unforgiving.

The Rally for Economic Survival at the Cajundome was the last gasp of an old order trying with all its might — by hook or by crook; with conflated facts and distorted data — to cling to an era that has ended. The world will never be the same as it was before the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon.

What has happened since then in terms of economic and ecological damage proves that we cannot — as a state, as a nation, as people who believe we are bound to be responsible stewards of our state and our environment — allow anything approaching a return to business as usual.

As was just demonstrated by the killing of climate control legislation at the federal level, the energy industry will fight policy changes fiercely. But, we can be stronger. Whatever policy they can buy or block in Washington and Baton Rouge, we can circumvent by making changes in our own lives. Getting solar panels. Reducing energy consumption. Getting more efficient vehicles. Riding bikes. Pushing for high-speed rail.

Change has arrived in Louisiana and that the BP Gulf Gusher brought it. The politicians don't get it yet.

But, that's the way it always is.

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