By Mike Stagg – The April 20, 2010, explosion on BP’s Macondo deep water well — in addition to taking the lives of 11 workers — shattered the political myth that for decades had protected the oil and gas industry here from any serious scrutiny.
Approximately 4.9 million barrels (a staggering 205,800,000 gallons) of crude oil flowing unchecked into the Gulf for almost four months will have that effect. The damage inflicted by that disaster on Louisiana’s people and environment will linger for decades.
The moratorium on deep water drilling — the right decision at the time, considering hurricane season was approaching and the blowout was not under control a month after the explosion — provided the industry an opportunity to try to pull that myth together again. The Louisiana Oil & Gas Association (LOGA) seized that opportunity with gusto, launching what some consider the largest and most successful public relations campaign in Louisiana history. The anti-moratorium hysteria of 2010 was a LOGA production from start to finish.
LOGA’s anti-moratorium campaign was an economic fear campaign based on projections about the moratorium’s impact that were, in retrospect, so wildly wrong that one must question whether the estimates had any purpose other than serving as propaganda tools.
LOGA’s “Rally for Economic Survival” in Lafayette two months to the day after the spill was the culmination of a relentless PR campaign against the moratorium that included lawsuits and a series of media events across South Louisiana.
There was only one problem. None of the declarations and predictions about the harm of the moratorium was inflicting and was projected to inflict turned out to be true. Still, the campaign served at least one of its intended purposes, that of patching together — at least temporarily — the myth of the perfect overlap of the interests of the oil & gas industry and the interests of the state.
Ironically, since 2010, no one has done more to focus attention on the divide between the state’s interests and the industry’s interests than has LOGA.
LOGA has accomplished this feat by not only admitting that those differences exist, but insisting that the interests of the industry are, in fact, more important than the interests of the people of the state. It has done so on separate issues in each of the past two years, repeating the ethically suspect methods is used to fan the anti-moratorium hysteria. Whatever LOGA thought it won in 2010, it has since set out to squander.
In 2011, LOGA defended a 17-year-old tax severance tax exemption on oil and gas extracted using fracking by using economic study from one of its frequently hired economists. The Haynesville Trend had established itself as the most productive shale gas field in the country but revenue shortfalls were regularly forcing devastating cuts to education and healthcare. Still, LOGA argued that collecting that tax threatened the life of the Haynesville field. LOGA declared the profits of those energy companies and the royalties from that gas to landowners to be a higher priority than hundreds of millions of dollars that the severance tax would have delivered to public infrastructure investments critical to Louisiana’s future.
This year, LOGA is back with another store-bought economic study that says holding the industry accountable for the environmental damage their drilling practices have inflicted over the decades to land owned by Louisiana residents is too great a burden for industry to bear. Once again, LOGA is using a biased study back its claim that the interests of the industry are superior to the interests of Louisiana residents.
LOGA’s fundamentally dishonest approach to the moratorium, the fracking severance tax exemption, and now legacy lawsuits has made explicit an idea that, until a few years ago, few would have dared speak publicly — namely that the the interests of the industry and the interests of the state are separate and distinct.
In two short years, LOGA’s dishonest efforts to insist that no other interest in Louisiana is greater than the that of the oil and gas industry has done more to discredit that industry than any of its critics could have dared dream of accomplishing.
With friends like LOGA, the oil and gas industry does not need any enemies.
Mike Stagg is a former reporter and currently, a small business owner in Lafayette, Louisiana who has researched the activities of the oil and gas industry extensively. He is working on a book that examines the anti-moratorium public relations campaign that raged across Louisiana in the summer of 2010.
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