Louisiana produces almost 30 per cent of America's commercial fisheries. Only Alaska (ten times the size of the Bayou state) produces slightly more. So obviously, Louisiana's coastal waters are immensely rich and prolific in seafood.
These same coastal waters contain 3,200 of the roughly 3,700 offshore production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. From these, Louisiana also produces 25 per cent of America's domestic oil, and no major oil spill has ever soiled its coast. So for those interested in evidence over hysterics, by simply looking bayou-ward, a lesson in the “environmental perils” of offshore oil drilling presents itself very clearly.
Fashionable Florida, on the other hand, which zealously prohibits offshore oil drilling, had its gorgeous "Emerald Coast" panhandle beaches soiled by an ugly oil spill in 1976. This spill, as almost all oil spills, resulted from the transportation of oil – not from the extraction of oil. Assuming such as Hugo Chavez deign to keep selling us oil, we'll need increasingly more and we'll need to keep transporting it stateside – typically to refineries in Louisiana and Texas.
This path takes those tankers (as the one in 1976) smack in front of Florida's panhandle beaches. Recall the Valdez, the Cadiz, the Argo Merchant. These were all tanker spills. The production of oil is relatively clean and safe. Again, it's the transportation that presents the greatest risk. And even these spills (though hyped hysterically as environmental catastrophes) always play out as minor blips, those pictures of oil-soaked seagulls notwithstanding. To the horror and anguish of professional greenies, Alaska's Prince William Sound recovered completely. More birds get fried by landing on power lines and smashed to pulp against picture windows in one week than perished from three decades of oil spills.
For fear of oil spills, as of 2008, the U.S. Federal government and various states ban drilling in thousands upon thousands of square miles off the U.S. Coast. These areas, primarily on the Outer Continental Shelf, hold an estimated 115 billion barrels of oil and 633 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. This leaves America 's energy needs increasingly at the mercy of foreign autocrats, despots and maniacs. All the while worldwide demand for oil ratchets ever and ever upward.
"Environmentalists" wake up in the middle of the night sweating and whimpering about offshore oil platforms only because they've never seen what's under them. This proliferation of marine life around the platforms turned on its head every "environmental expert" opinion of its day.
The original plan, mandated by federal environmental "experts" back in the late '40s, was to remove the big, ugly, polluting, environmentally hazardous contraptions as soon as they stopped producing. Fine, said the oil companies.
About 15 years ago some wells played out off Louisiana and the oil companies tried to comply. Their ears are still ringing from the clamor fishermen put up. Turns out those platforms are going nowhere, and by popular demand of those with a bigger stake in the marine environment than any "environmentalist."
Every "environmental" superstition against these structures was turned on its head. Marine life had EXPLODED around these huge artificial reefs: A study by LSU's Sea Grant college shows that 85 percent of Louisiana fishing trips involve fishing around these platforms. The same study shows 50 times more marine life around an oil production platform than in the surrounding Gulf bottoms.
An environmental study (by apparently honest scientists) revealed that urban runoff and treated sewage dump 12 times the amount of petroleum into the Gulf than those thousands of oil production platforms. And oil seeping naturally through the ocean floor into the Gulf, where it dissipates over time, accounts for 7 times the amount spilled by rigs and pipelines in any given year.
The Flower Garden coral reefs lie off the Louisiana-Texas border. Unlike any of the Florida Keys reefs, they're surrounded by dozens of offshore oil platforms.
These have been pumping away for the past 50 years. Yet according to G.P. Schmahl, a Federal biologist who worked for decades in both places, "The Flower Gardens are much healthier, more pristine than anything in the Florida Keys. It was a surprise to me," he admits. "And I think it's a surprise to most people."
"A key measure of the health of a reef is the amount of area taken up by coral," according to a report by Steve Gittings, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's science coordinator for marine sanctuaries. "Louisiana's Flower Garden boasts nearly 50 percent coral cover. In the Florida Keys it can run as little as 5 percent."
Mark Ferrulo, a Florida "environmental activist" uses the very example of Louisiana for his anti-offshore drilling campaign, calling Louisiana's coast "the nation's toilet."
Florida's fishing fleet must love fishing in toilets, and her restaurants serving what's in them. Most of the red snapper you eat in Florida restaurants are caught around Louisiana's oil platforms. We see the Florida-registered boats tied up to them constantly. Sometimes us locals can barely squeeze in.
In 1986 Louisiana started the Rigs to Reef program, a cooperative effort by oil companies, the feds and the state. This program literally pays the oil companies to keep the platforms in the Gulf. Now some platforms are simply cut off at the bottom and toppled over as artificial reefs; over 60 have been toppled thus far.
A few years back, Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries officials were invited to Australia to help them with a similar program. Think about it: here's Australia, the nation with the Great Barrier Reef, the world's biggest natural reef, the world's top dive destination – they're asking help from “the nation's toilet” about developing exciting dive sites by using the very structures that epitomize (in greenie eyes) environmental disaster.
America desperately needs more domestic oil. In the process of producing it, we'd also get dynamite fishing, dynamite diving, and a cheaper tab for broiled red snapper with shrimp topping.
Humberto Fontova holds an M.A. in Latin American Studies from Tulane University and is the author of four books including his latest, The Longest Romance; The Mainstream Media and Fidel Castro. For more information and for video clips of his Television and college speaking appearances please visit www.hfontova.com.