His grandpa was a fisherman, years ago
His daddy was a fisherman--sane--they used to fish,
pulling the nets in the water, and when my my great-grandfather looked
at my grandfather one day, they saw a boat coming with an engine in it.
They had never seen that before. They were rowing out there. And all
of a sudden, this guy throws in a net and a set of wooden doors and
man, they were pulling nets by hand. He turned to my grandpa and
said, "you're looking at the end of the shrimp right there."
He thought that was it.
Technology, man. That was technology.
My grandfather and his daddy, they used to sane. That's when you had
to be good. I don't know if you call it your roots, or you have it
in your blood. I guess that's what it is. My great great grandfather,
great grandfather, my grandfather, my daddy....And my daddy, for some
reason, he was never crazy about shrimping. So, he was a deputy for
about 35 years, my daddy, and he went crabbing every morning. When
he'd get off work at the annex, he'd go run a hundred crab traps.
Him and my mom would boil the crabs, sit down at the kitchen
table and watch "Young and the Restless" and peel a box a crabs.
I took off at 17. I went in the service. I wasn't coming back over
here. My wife--we got married while I was in the service. She
stayed three years with me in Okinawa. Wade was born....my son
was born in Okinawa. After I was in the service, I seen, how I
actually love this part of the country.
My dad was from St. James Parish, which was along the river and my
mother was from Lafourche Crossing. They were sugarcane farmers. George
was in the service and I said when I get back to Louisiana, I'd kiss
the ground and I did and I said I swear I'd never leave again.
When I came back, I got a job with the oil field. Didn't like the oil
field so I trawled part time while I was working in the oil field and
finally, I went in to it full time. Bought me a boat.
Growing up in Chauvin, going to school, I used to say I'm never
going to marry a trawler. You know, the kids I knew. And look
what happened. I was a trawler at one time and I'm in the seafood
I want to have enough of it left, so my kids can pass it on to their
Like the earth and sediment that created these wetlands, it was the
Mississippi River that first brought Acadians to the
southernmost reaches of Louisiana.
97% of the seafood caught in the Gulf of Mexico, nearly one third of
the country's total harvest, depend on these wetlands for survival.
There are three times fewer fishermen than there were in 1980,
at a time when 80% of the nation's seafood was caught domestically.
With 80% now coming from imports, the seafood industry is no longer
the livelihood it once was. Fishing is inarguably endemic to
Cajun culture but it now lies in the shadow of another industry...
Many continue to earn a living from fishing in Louisiana but today, the
oil industry is a bigger source of jobs.
Oil wells and a vast web of pipeline now extend for miles off
the coast. Leases for future wells reach out even further.
Thousands of miles of canals and vast stretches of open water mark
the landscape, scars of Louisiana's long history of drilling for fossil
But along with these sacrifices, the oil and gas industry has
provided for those on the coast for decades. It has also helped usher
in an era of unprecedented technological achievement, which
drastically changed the lives of all Americans. To Cajuns, the oil
industry has been more than just a source of good jobs. Through their
creativity and knowledge of the land, they've made a great
contribution to the development of the offshore drilling industry,
which has since spread around the world.
The heritage and the oilfield together, ok? I've got a lot of
guys that work in the oil field but do not want to give up trawlin'.
Partner, if they get off for three hours in one night, they're going
When it's down for the fishing, the shrimping, the trawlers will work
for the oil industry and then if the oil industry goes down, they'll
start trawling. It's a way of life down here. To me, that's what it
At Port Fourchon, in Leeville, Louisiana, a tightly choreographed
cycle of activity supports the daily job of drilling offshore.
When it comes to drilling in the deepwater, we're the service base
that handles that. We also service about 45% of all the oil rigs in
the entire U.S. Gulf. We service about 18% of the nation's entire
Facilities like Port Fourchon provide jobs, contracts to local
companies and a steady stream of traffic, which means revenue for
We live off the land. So, that not only includes the
fishing--commercial fishing, recreational fishing industry. That
also means the fossil fuel industry. If it comes from the
land, we can do it.
Cajuns continue to adapt to change and although fishing is no longer
the most common occupation, many do continue to shrimp, crab and oyster
to earn a living.
Right out of high school, I bought a skiff and like I said I worked
it....had it a couple years and ended up selling it and going to
work for my old man.
I used to pretend to help out when I was a little girl--you know--sit
at the calculator and push the buttons like I was doing something.
I wanted to do what my mom was doing, you know.
I always wanted to go to work with my dad when I was a little boy, you
know? I thought the shed was fun.
A friend of ours offered me and Carol the shrimp shed. We would
run it. He would own one third, we would own one third and then
another fellow who put up the money. And after maybe six or
seven years, me and Carol bought him out.
We buy shrimp from the boats...unload the boats, the
fisherman that go catch the shrimp--unload the boats. And then
we take them it in these vats, put them in these vats and then we load
them and send them in the 18-wheelers and that goes to a
processing plant. They peel the shrimp. And then the shrimp are
peeled, put in boxes, five pound boxes and they sell them to
brokers, which brokers sell them up north. And then we sell to the
Been messin' with shrimp ever since I've been about 12 years old. So,
about 10 years, I've been doing this and, I go to school every day
but Im here in the morning from seven till ten and then in the
afternoon from about four o'clock till six.
He's going to college for refrigeration. He'd like to work
here--thats why he's going into refrigeration. His dad works here
That's why he's going for refrigeration.
He likes the seafood business.
She pays for my college but I'm going to work for her after I get
out of school, you know, fixing her machines and doing work down here.
If there's not enough work around here, then I'll have to move to a
city or something, you know, where there's plenty of electrical work.
Like, if she's not here, if she ain't here, I'm gonna go to.
I encourage them to go to school you know I want them to...just in
case. You know, you've gotta have that to back you up in case this
falls through and it don't look like its getting no better.
My son's got quite a few years left, and if one of his sons
decides he want to do that, or one of my daughters kids, decides they
want to do that, I hope it's still there.
They want to stay down here. You don't hear one of them saying, "Oh,
I want to move away." If the money was there, they would stay right
where they at, at the Shed.
It's real scary right now. We have enough...enough fears to see in
this business, that the business itself creates, without outside
factors coming in.
We were offshore, standing by, trying to figure out what the rig
wanted us to do, what they needed from us.
The captain said we were gonna be taking on mud and went outside with
the other guys.
On April 20th, 2010, badly behind schedule and over budget, the
Deepwater Horizon was working in over 5000 feet of water, preparing
to cap a well it had drilled to a target depth of over 18,000 feet.
As a final step, the crew began pumping seawater down the drill
string to displace drilling fluid known as 'mud' to a nearby support
vessel, The Damon Bankston.
I was on the back deck looking at the rig, noticed that they lost
power, the lights went out.
You could feel the explosion, the blast.
You could see people jumping off the bridge of the rig.
The water was on fire around the people who were jumping in.
Just before 10pm, a pressurized geyser of natural gas and
hydrocarbons shot up the drill string and ignited.
The next morning, the smoke plume rising from the inferno could be
seen from space as the rig burned for two days before it finally sank
to the bottom of the Gulf, nearly a mile below the surface.
After the third day, search and rescue operations were called off.
Dozens of crew were injured and 11 men were dead.
Industrial tank trucks hold upwards of 5000 gallons of oil.
Initial estimates released by the Coast Guard put the spill rate at
only 42,000 gallons, or about eight truckloads, a day. As oil began to
appear on the surface, new estimates were released suggesting
the spill rate was actually as high as 210,000 gallons per day.
I didn't really know the real, true impact until about three days after
when I got up in a helicopter and went out...and there was this
...this orange stuff, for miles. The fumes were awful. At that point
I said, this is gonna be a disaster.
By April 25th, images captured by NASA's Terra satellite depicted a
massive and growing oil slick. Officials would eventually release
daily flow estimates as high as 2.4 million gallons per day, or enough
to fill roughly four hundred and eighty tank trucks, each day the
oil was gushing from the wellhead.
By May 17th, the growing oil slick spanned over six hundred square
miles. Several days later it hit the coast.
The combined contamination of oil and dispersant, which BP used in
unprecedented quantities after the spill, posed risks to both human
health and the coastal ecosystem.
Toxins can bioaccumulate up the food chain and cause genetic
mutations and reproductive problems that could threaten to wipe out
entire species of marine life.
If any lesson was learned after the Exxon Valdez spill that could be
applied to the Gulf, it was that the full impact of such a disaster
would take years to become known.
The Pacific Herring population devastated after the Exxon Valdez
didn't drop off significantly until four years after the spill, and
they have still not recovered today, more than 20 years later.
Due to concerns about the spill's impact on seafood, the first areas
were closed to fishing in the beginning of May, about 6800 square
Many fishermen joined in to fight the oil slick, working for BP as
part of the "Vessels of Opportunity" program.
By one month later, 88,000 square miles of federal waters and 55% of
the Louisiana coast were shut down to fishing.
Right now we should be unloading trailer loads of shrimp, and
there's no shrimp coming in. I'm selling 200-300 pounds a day
compared to selling 20, 30, 40 boxes a day.
Compared to 4000 and 5000 pounds and up to 10,000 pounds.
The reason I'm open, just...because I can't get away from it. I have to
be here. I open every day. Every single day I'm here.
I'm selling shrimp coming from Texas...you know...the Texas pond,
trying to make money come in some kind of way. All they gave us was
$5000. I don't know how much longer I can take it here.
Im not gonna say this because she starts crying every time I say
this. I'm gonna start crying to if I say it...about
Chris... about our grand-kids. He said, "Ma Ma, I'll work for nothing
for you....just to help you out." That's our grand-kids, there.
But I think we'll get through it.
We're so glad they got heart.
We survived the other two. We should get through this. You know?
We lost this place for Katrina and rebuilt. And, we were working down
at our other place afterword and here comes Hurricane Gustav, and we
lost the one in Leeville. Then, we rebuilt and the first year we got
back open was this year....the May season we opened up...in Leeville,
Then we opened up nine days, that's it, Then we had to shut it back
I'm going to put signs up at my other place to trying to lease it.
I guess, lease it out, maybe, hopefully to an oil company or
Or BP, if we can.
(laughing) Or BP.
(over Carol) ...they don't seem to want to talk
After the hurricanes, the fishermen could go go to work. All we needed
was running water and we were working. We're scared after this
that its gonna be finished, that the business itself is gonna be
finished. If a man's gonna have an opportunity, especially a young
man, to go into something new, I don't think he'll come back. I
don't believe he'll come back into this business. The only ones you
gonna have left, is the older people that, that's all they know
how to do.
Cajuns have been living off the land in Louisiana since their
ancestors, the Acadians, arrived in the mid-1700's.
The Cajuns derive their adaptability and spirit of
cooperation from the Acadians, who were a group of French peasant
farmers, first settling in what's now Nova Scotia around 1632.
Although Great Britain and France squabbled over the territory for
decades, the Acadians lived in relative peace for one hundred
twenty years, until the British eventually took control and began
to exercise their power by the 1750's.
The British were suspect of them for any number of reasons. First of
all, they considered them French. The Acadians, by then, didn't
consider themselves fully French, anymore.
The British burned Acadian homes and boats, confiscated all their
property, and used the proceeds to pay for what became known as the Le
Grand Derangement, the forced deportation of the so-called
'French Neutrals'. 11,000 Acadians--men, women and
children--were put on ships and exiled to Britain's Atlantic
American colonies or sent to England, or back to France.
There was a deliberate attempt to disperse them. Figured that if they
were abke to disperse them in small enough numbers in standing English
colonies, they might eventually be able to become absorbed.
Broken up and living in poverty in France and the colonies, when the
Spanish offered land in their new possessions in the Lower
Mississippi Valley and Louisiana, the Acadians accepted. The Spanish
wanted to grow their numbers and prevent attack from the British,
and paid for seven transport ships to bring exiled Acadians from
France. First arriving in the 1763, they began calling the land
Nouvelle Acadie, or New Acadia.
What ended up happening was wherever they ultimately settled
they considered an extension of Acadia.
You had oyster fishermen, shrimp fishermen, trappers. It was
seasonal. The biggest money-crops you had was fur.
They became fishermen. They became cattlemen. They became loggers.
Their willingness and ability to adapt were absolutely critical to
Over many generations, the cultures of others who settled around them
influenced Acadian settlers: Africans, Asians, Europeans and
Native Americans as well as those from the Caribbean.
Somewhere along the line, the French pronunciation "A-Kaa-Gee-On"
simply became "Kaa-jun" and finally Cajun, in English, as we know it
A creolization...a blending of influences to produce something
It's so mixed because my Mama's a Collie--she's got English descent.
My daddy's a Terrebonne and I don't know if it's Nova Scota or
Due to their relative isolation from the rest of the country, their
language and traditions remained dominant for generations, most
Cajuns speaking primarily French until public schools began to
mandate English in the early 1900's.
Teddy Roosevelt said at the beginning of the twentieth century,
there is room for but one language in this country and that is the
In 1916, Louisiana declared only English could be spoken in public
schools and five years later the law became part of the state
We were being punished every time we opened our mouth in French
because the dumb teachers couldn't speak French.
In the first grade, I couldn't even ask to use the bathroom and I
peed on myself. Too scared to ask to go to the bathroom.
The government put schools to educate them. At the same time, put
requirements on them. Like, they were punished if they spoke French
in the English school.
As the fur supply dwindled, a greater reliance was placed on
fishing as a source of income in coastal Louisiana. And it would
remain dominant for decades, until the 1930's, when something new
would appear on the horizon.
Everybody was broke. The Depression had just hit and then the oil field
really popped up in Golden Meadow, which followed the Leeville oil
boom. Just about everybody's front and back yard had a rig drilling.
Their children having to pull on their skirts to get their attention
because the noise was so loud, from the drilling right outside the
They had some oil derricks less than five feet from people's
bedrooms. I mean, they were all over the place. People didn't mind
because it was good revenue.
Language and cultural barriers kept Cajuns from getting many jobs in
the oil field's earliest days. But as they had always done, they
quickly adapted to take advantage of new opportunities, learning
trades and getting jobs in drilling and production.
You got paid so much an hour when you worked roughneck and so a lot
of Cajun people worked roughneck, and worked on the rigs.
It created a brand new economy and some people kept on with the
fishing and shrimping and trapping but the younger children went to
work for the oil field because it paid cash and there was no
guesswork where the next dollar was coming from.
They came in with a lot of people from Texas. If you were not Cajun
you were a Texian. It was if you were from Alabama, Mississippi or
Texas, you were a Texian.
They didn't speak French and they weren't Catholic. Most of them were
Protestant. There was certainly a culture clash but as many people in
lower Lafourche will tell you, the Texians brought in the outside
We thought as fisherman, we thought we had poor families and whoever
came worked in the oil field, they came from rich families.
Texaco and Gulf Oil were the first to really come and do a lot of
drilling in this area but then the Cajuns start learning the trade and
eventually, it was just about 100% Cajuns working in the oil fields.
As they got off the land and started going into the marshes,
they needed boats.
Once the need for boat captains arose, it made the most sense to
hire the captains with the most knowledge of the local waterways.
You gotta remember, since they were ten, twelve, thirteen years old,
they had been running shrimp boats and oyster boats and they were good
seamen. The first supply boats were shrimp boats and oyster luggers
that they put a wooden deck on them.
The risk takers who are out there going, Ill try this, sure. I'll go
out with you. Ill show you how to do this. I'll translate for my
neighbors. Those folks are incredibly creative and innovative
and so, they look around and say oh, you need to get across, well
here lets develop this marsh buggy that's gonna help you move across
the marshes easier. Oh, you need a different kind of boat if you're
gonna carry this much and try to do seismic exploration. And so, you
have, very quickly, a back and forth between the two.
In addition to jobs supporting drilling and production,
fabrication yards and shipbuilding meant more work for the community.
Most importantly for the Cajuns, the many unique needs of the oil
and gas industry created the opportunity for many small niche
The industrial revolution changed not only our way of life but pretty
much the entire rural America. The arrival of oil industry changed
things in a lot of remarkable ways too. It gave people who had never
had access to any kind of salaried job: paycheck income, access to
that and that changed a lot. You start thinking in terms of money.
You no longer had to raise chickens to have eggs you just go buy a
dozen at the store.
The romance, the adventure, of choosing from foods gathered from
the four corners of America and indeed, from all the world.
Gradually, the oil industry and its high-paying jobs would contribute
to more children finishing high school and even going to college.
It also introduced many of the modern conveniences that the rest
of the country was growing accustomed to. However, not all
changes brought by the "Texians" would be positive.
Oil derricks would collapse on the houses. It developed where the
streets weren't passable because to supply them, it was always mud and
water. They would blow out. They would put oil everywhere. You know,
you have to understand, the person was making money was tolerant. Now,
some people weren't tolerant but they had no control. If your
neighbor had an oil well in his back yard and it blew up and you
got full of oil, you had no choice in the matter.
It gave us a lot of really wonderful improvements. I mean,
they come at a price. They attach you to, you know, what amounts to a
People are aware now, certainly, the folks down in the gulf are
aware that we're dealing with a massive and potentially
unprecedented environmental disaster.
Ten days after the spill, the Obama administration announced that no
new drilling would be allowed in the deepwater fields until the
cause of the Horizon accident could be determined.
A federal inquiry would later find deep-seeded corruption in the
Minerals Management Service, the agency charged with leasing and
regulation of federally-controlled drilling.
The device in place that were supposed to prevent this didn't
work, and more importantly, they had nothing prepared to address
this situation. "We don't know how to stop it." The risks involved in
this industry really began to hit home and I'll never forget that
moment when someone told me, it'd be much easier to go up in fix the
space station than to fix this blowout. We began to discover just
how close to the edge of science these people are operating.
In May of 2010, President Obama extended the moratorium six-months,
canceling a pending lease sale set for August.
For years, there has been a scandalously close relationship
between oil companies and the agency that regulates them. That's
why we've decided to separate the people who permit the drilling from
those who regulate and ensure the safety of the drilling.
The Deepwater Horizon had missed 16 required inspections since 2005.
An investigation had uncovered that oil industry representatives had
been lavishly entertaining MMS officials with expensive meals and
gifts, private jets, sporting events and hunting trips.
If you take a place like Morgan City, you've got MMS inspectors and
people who work in the industry. There kids probably play on the
same soccer teams. They go to the same schools. They go....This is a
small community. Everyone is involved in the industry some way
The agency had neglected warnings about problems with blowout
preventors and failed to address inadequate response plans, out of a
mind-set that a disaster on the scale of the BP spill simply
As the industry experienced early growth in the first half of the
twentieth century, regulation was minimal and little attention was
paid to environmental impact or worker safety. Blowouts were
common and with crude technology, oil-field workers risked possible
injury or death every time they went to work.
We didn't have special equipment to work around the chemicals. We
didn't have special equipment to work around the mud.
Before stricter environmental regulations were implemented,
drilling fluid, excess oil and other chemicals were simply dumped
wherever it was convenient.
Where I'd go hunt rabbits at, I'd go across the bayou with my shotgun
and sit down on a tank that was being filled with oil and the
excess was being pumped in a pit that would have a flare. The pit
would be burning all night so, that would give me a pretty light. The
rabbits would run right up in the fire light and I'd....pow...I'd
shoot 'em. I'd be sitting on the steps and they'd fall down on
oil-burnt ground, you know?
I saw spills and we took care of them up in ways that are probably
not acceptable now but the waters were there. The shrimp were still
there. The crabs were still there. The oysters were still there. The
fish were still there.
From its outset, the oil industry found ways to steer legislation,
many elected officials coming from the industry or backed by industry
Scientists went out to the bedding grounds, where they collected
buckets full of oysters and then, brought them to a special oyster
research center of Texas A&M College, one of the laboratories
established for the oyster survey by the oil companies.
A blanket of crude oil is poured directly on the water. Every
possibility was explored. After years of study and progress, the
results are in: the test oysters showed no ill-effects from oil,
even under conditions which far exceeded those ever present during
oil production. As a matter of fact, the test oysters were so
happy, they brought forth new generations to share their luck.
They never had it so good.
When people talk about....so, what does the industry mean to Cajuns?
Yes, it's good jobs. It's money. But you also recognize, these were
people who were isolated, had been pushed out. When suddenly you have
the people in the U.S., including the President saying, "this is
important, what you do is important."
I was just a little kid but my mom had a couple of sons in the war and
she wanted to see that war end. And if we needed oil to help it end,
she wanted oil.
By torpedoing the freighters, the enemy tried to cut our land-leased
During World War II, Nazi U-Boats regularly patrolled the Gulf of
Mexico, sinking 56 merchant ships and tankers in order to cut off the
Gulf oil supply from the growing U.S. war machine.
Oil was needed for bombs, synthetic rubber, fuel for jeeps, trucks,
tanks and airplanes and to lubricate guns and machinery.
Just as the U.S. economy boomed in the post-World War II era, so did
the nations' birth rate. More and more families were moving away from
cities, into modern, convenience-laden suburbs, thanks
to cheap and abundant fuel.
It really escalates during World War II and then, ever since...
With consumption steadily increasing, oil and gas production
doubled from 1945 to 1955. Seven years later, it doubled again.
The fields on land and in the marsh were quickly being drilled up and
through the successful implementation of many new
technologies, oil companies pushed into the Gulf of Mexico in search
of bigger discoveries.
The first well that was drilled beyond the sight of land in the
Gulf was finished in 1947, in 18 feet of water.
More would follow as the industry developed the continental shelf.
The new needs of drilling off the coast fostered the design of boats
that could work in rough seas and a myriad of support services for the
emerging 'offshore' industry.
The industry would continue to grow into the fifties and sixties as
Americans shifted to an oil-dependent way of life.
My wife, she says, "George,you remember, your Grandma's electric
bill used to be about fifteen dollars." I said, "Baby, grandma
had one light bulb in the house. She only put it on to make coffee,
at four o'clock in the morning."
For more and more people, life now revolved around car travel, and
gas-powered vehicles were filling the roads.
Oil products not only went in the tank of the car but into the tires,
the interior and many other components.
It carried workers and supplies to build a vast infrastructure of
Fossil fuels were becoming the driving force behind the American
way of life.
Furniture, appliances and cooking utensils all include plastics made
Food products brought to market by oil filled the home.
From the spraying of pesticides on vegetables and grains to
gas-powered machinery used for picking and processing.
From packaging and labeling to the trucks transporting the products
to supermarkets that customers drive to.
From the detergent in the laundry room to the toothpaste in the
bathroom, products made from oil filled the home and international
freight lines were bringing more and more foreign products in
through U.S. ports on cargo ships.
With domestic oil consumption at an all-time high production in the
Gulf continued to grow as a greater reliance was placed on Gulf fields
to satisfy the country's thirst for oil.
As the industry developed domestically, the inherent dangers
of offshore drilling became clear. In 1969, the second worst spill
from a well blowout happened off the coast of Santa Barbara,
It leaked an estimated 80,000 barrels over 11 days and as images
of the thick wave of crude washing on the beaches of California were
broadcast across the country, Americans began to question the
pace of progress.
Like Obama after the BP spill, President Richard Nixon went to
Santa Barbara to see the impact first hand. And like Obama, he
issued a moratorium on offshore drilling.
Without that oil spill, you probably don't get the modern
environmental movement to some degree. California certainly, like
they basically stopped drilling off their coast after Santa Barbara.
But the rest of the nation as well, kind of clued in to the fact that
our environment is in jeopardy and we need to do a lot more to secure
it. The first earth day happened the next year. After Earth Day, you
could connect the dots..the Endangered Species Act, The Clean
Water Act, the EPA. All these things that were just this wave of
support and concern so significant that somebody like Richard Nixon is
then signing all these laws.
Just a year after the Santa Barbara Oil Spill, Louisiana would
experience an offshore disaster of their own.
I'm working for Shell. I'm tied up to my platform, you know, just
standing by. And I hear the rig calling for the boat. I look out
the window and I could see a fire over there so I answered the radio,
and he says, "Get over here fast. We're in trouble." So we untied
the boat and took off running over there and I could see people
jumping off the platform into the water, jumping sixty feet into the
water. I picked up twenty-six live people and two dead people, the day
that fire started.
The disaster made headlines but because the well was producing
mostly gas, which was being burned off in the roaring fires, the coast
didn't have to deal with a massive oil slick like after the BP spill.
Most residents continued to support offshore drilling. Without
California's diverse economy, many families had come to rely on the
deeply-embedded oil industry as their source of income, and elected
officials set out to defend it from a growing number of
I hold in my hand two bumper stickers. I can't get people to
put my bumper stickers on their cars because they have these: "oil
is beautiful," "oil feeds my family."
The wave of support for environmental legislation,
ironically, was happening just after domestic oil production
peaked in the U.S., and the country was shifting from being a net
exporter of oil to a net importer
For the first time, the country was relying on imports from the Middle
East for a crucial part of the nation's oil supply. When turmoil
in the region caused those supplies to be restricted, the result was an
energy crisis in the 1970's. The price of oil went through the roof.
Despite most of the country being swept up in the tide of
environmental consciousness, Louisiana was enjoying a huge oil
Section 404 of the Clean Water Act finally brought protection to
wetlands. And our politicians in Congress didn't like that idea
because the oil and gas industry didn't like it and they fought it.
That tradition is alive today.
My name is Jeff Landry and I represent Louisiana's third
congressional district. You know, when I hold this sign up in my
district, everyone gets it.
...dealing with the economic detestation not just from the oil
but from President Obama's moratorium.
It could potentially wreak economic havoc on this region that exceeds
the havoc wreaked by the spill itself.
When the deepwater horizon happened. Our congressional
moratorium was more upset about a a moratorium, temporary moratorium on
offshore oil and gas drilling, than they were about the damage that was
Since 2008, the oil and gas industry collectively spent more
than $950 million dollars on lobbying efforts and millions more
on advertising. BP is no exception, spending approximately
$100 million on an advertising campaign in the months after the
This is our livelihood, oil. Besides the little bit of
fishing--the fishermens we have in town--that's dedicated and they
love to do it, and they'll stay to it until their last day, you know?
But the oil industry is keeping this community going.
An oil and gas man needs confidence that the regulations are going to
be in his favor if he's gonna spend money out there. I mean,
you've got to spend a tremendous amount of money offshore to make a
The Santa Barbara spill gave rise to the modern environmental
movement, and after the Exxon Valdez spill, the enactment of the
Oil Pollution Act would hold oil companies accountable for spills.
But unlike in California and Alaska, Louisianan's felt a strong,
deep-rooted connection to the oil industry. Even with the threats
posed by the spill, polls indicated that Obama's moratorium had less
support in the areas impacted by the spill than in the rest of the
Many people in South Louisiana will tell you that the moratorium, or
what would be more accurate to say would be the suspension of the
drilling, was a bigger effect than the spill and the oil in the gulf.
I have nothing against the oil companies. We need them for a
The more cars you see on that highway, the more shrimp we sell.
Yeah, I have a lot of crew changes.
You know? Carol has...plenty.
That's a lot of my business.
That's a lotta, lotta business.
...and if that stops
I pray to god every day that its not true about about that....Well,
it is true that they stopped the drilling, man. We don't want that
Nobody wants that down here. The people are gonna lose all their
jobs and these rigs ain't never gonna come back. These rigs, once
they go overseas, they're gone.
Well, the acute impacts of coming in contact with the crude oil and
the dispersants in the environment, are things like headaches, nausea,
skin rashes, skin lesions. And then it moves into the kidney
damage, liver damage, cardiovascular impacts...
As months passed with the oil still flowing, a massive response effort
worked to minimize the damage.
Dozens of vessels worked at the leak site around the clock to stop
the flow and capture the leaking oil. But new concerns were
Though workers were able to collect or burn off oil on the surface or
onshore, in early June of 2010, scientists confirmed that large
plumes of undersea oil had formed in the ocean depths.
The long-term impact of the spill was further complicated by the
quantities of chemical dispersant called Corexit that were used to
control the oil, particularly at the site of the leak, deep
underwater. Dispersants are made up of solvents, surfactants and
other chemicals that break up the surface tension of oil and make it
easier to collect.
It's an ether and it's volatile. It's water-soluble. It's not
something that you're going to be able to find. Your body's going to
take it in, metabolize it and excrete it and the damage is going
to be done. I am really, really worried about some of our species,
with developmental and reproductive effects on them, because of the
A version of Corexit was used in high volumes after the Exxon Valdez
spill in 1989, and, studies suggest that it lead to reproductive
problems with salmon and herring as well as health problems with humans
who were involved in the cleanup.
And though the versions used after the BP spill were less toxic than
what was used after Exxon Valdez, it was used in unprecedented
volumes. BP used a significant percentage of the world supply of
Corexit, 1.8 million gallons by their own admission, though some
have argued they actually used much more.
We've always lived with oil but we've never lived with these
dispersants they're putting out. What's this gonna do thirty years
down the line?
On July 15th, after 86 days of leaking oil into the Gulf of
Mexico, BP announced that the flow had finally been halted.
Official estimates would put the total oil spilled as high as 210
million gallons, enough to fill 42,000 tank trucks.
Everybody's feeling a little bit better, a little bit brighter. It's
fair right now. There's still some uncertainty but we're feeling a
little bit better because people's back at work. It looks like the
money's rolling a little bit more. The business is better. A bunch of
boats just got let go by BP and they're back to fishing and it
seems like the shrimp's a little bit more plentiful.
It's getting there. The numbers are getting there. For the month of
September, I was 18,000 pounds short. In a way, its slowed down a
lot because they scared to buy the shrimp.
The seafood down here is safe. Very, very safe. The processing
plants that we sell to have FDA people working in the plant all day
while they're processing the food, and they're running tests all day.
BP owes me money, yes, but I have, like an adjuster that's looking at
it, you know?
We had received a little bit at the beginning and then that was it. I
don't know what they're telling people on television. (laughs) We
lost the first season. We lost between the seasons when we could
have been retailing as much as we are retailing now.
The one's that did get money, some of them, the fishermen that told me
how much money they got, it's very generous. I think everything's
gonna turn out ok.
The long term effect, nobody knows. Man, we don't know. The most we
can do is guess. Really, the dispersants scare us more than the
oil in the long term effects and they say that there's a lot of oil
in the bottom of the Gulf, so, I don't know.
During the spill what I would tell people was that, the spill was a
temporary problem on top of a permanent disaster. And maybe the
analogy I would use was a cancer patient who gets a cold.
Eventually, the cold will be cured. It'll go away but the patient will
still be dying of cancer.
Just a year after the Santa Barbara spill, around the time of the Bay
Marchand blowout, in Louisiana, when a wave of environmental
legislation was becoming law, a Louisiana State University
scientist named Woody Gagliano discovered something that would
become Louisiana's paramount environmental issue in the coming
Like, the land is sinking or the water's getting higher. I don't
know which one it is. When I was a small boy, I could throw a rock
right here across the canal. Man, I can't even attempt to do that,
not because my arm's getting older but because it done grew ten times
more than what it was before.
I've literally seen large sections of marsh, islands, beaches,
disappear. I mean, they're gone. It's open water.
The Louisiana wetlands are the fastest-disappearing land mass in
Since 1932, the coast has lost 1900 square miles of wetlands, an area
the size of the state of Delaware, and the consequences have been
The wetlands are part of an alluvial plain, created by the
floodwater of the Mississippi River, which naturally changes
location as the sediment is carried from one place to another.
Since the Great Flood of 1927, humans have controlled the flow of
the river through a complex system of levees, preventing the sediment
it carries from creating new marsh.
The river's the life blood of the system. Whether it was when it was
a big artery out there, building land with sediments or dirt, or
whether it's a small capillary, if you like, spreading out on a
regular basis. It's the life blood of the system and we've cut it off
from the system. And that's a real problem. Unfortunately, it's not
the only thing we've done.
The offshore drilling has made a fisherman's paradise. Those fish
apparently think that those wells out there are reefs. And the best
fishing is--these men know who who fish here know--the best fishing in
the Gulf is around the rigs.
The oil industry will tell people, you know, "We helped you out.
Look--all these fish around the oil rigs." Oil rigs don't produce
fish. They attract fish. The wetlands, the marsh is the base of
the food chain, the habitat that produces the fish.
It's estimated that between 38 and 52 percent of all landloss in
coastal LA, especially Southeast LA, is directly related to oil and
Now everything was done for another reason and a good reason, a
defendable reason--to make our lives better. But in the long run
there were some effects that we either didn't know about, or didn't
Well, if they wanted to dig a hole in a certain place and there was no
navigable way of getting that rig in that area, and this is out in
the marsh where, you know, you can't go over there in a truck,
they had to dig a canal to get the rig to that location.
Keyhole canals that cover almost acre of a marsh to try to find the
I mean, we chopped it all up back into the 30's and the 40's and into
the 50's so, there was a lot of stuff that was done before and
people didn't care. They didn't. I mean, we got a lot of marsh, got a
lot of ducks, a lot of everything and we did.
The more areas that you open up for water to get into, and you're
allowing more salt water to come in.
The big impact of offshore oil and gas development has always been
onshore in Louisiana.
They dredged canals to put down pipelines to get the oil and gas to
the refineries. They had to have pipelines coming in from offshore.
I think there are estimates of about 15,000 miles of pipeline.
The shipping canals that were cut to support the oil industry so they
could get their goods and services through these areas.
In 1968, a direct shipping canal was cut between New Orleans and the
Gulf, which destroyed more than twenty-thousand acres of marsh and
contributed to devastating flooding after Hurricane Katrina.
Let's not just say it's just the 30s and 40s. This is 70s and 80s
there was some very significant activity as well.
Data showed a period of rapid landloss, which correlates to the
years with the highest rate of subsurface extraction.
Scientists have discovered that the land in some parts of Louisiana has
actually subsisted; sunken below the surface of the water, as a
result of the removal of underground hydrocarbons.
Data also shows that global warming related to carbon emissions has
contributed to sea-level rise in the Gulf of Mexico.
A study by Tulane University found that the Gulf has risen eight
inches over the last hundred years, at five times the rate it rose over
the thousand years preceding the country's industrialization.
Despite these studies, Louisiana lawmakers have voted against
legislation designed to curb carbon emissions because of its potential
impact on the energy industry.
When the marsh is gone, and remember oil is responsible for as
much as 50% of this coastal landloss...when that's gone, shrimp
production will collapse.
We used all our savings. We had to borrow money this week in order to
buy shrimp again.
Like, BP said they would make us whole....they didn't. You know? I
say, eight months ago, I was all for them because I thought they
would really help us out a lot and they didn't. I had no choice. You
know? There's no choice. Now, we've got a lawyer. You know, I
wasn't gonna get a lawyer. And I find. You know, now, the way
everything's going, I have no choice. I find, by a year, they
should have already approached us with a final payment if they didn't
want us to sue. You know? Why not give us what is fair, what we
deserve and we were supposed to get and it just didn't happen.
(interviewer off-camera) Do you still support more drilling?
I do. Yes, I do.
Uh-huh. Yep. That's our way of life down here: oil and seafood. That's
it. We can't do without it. The people can't do without it.
I guess we prejudice because her retail depends, 75%, on the oil
The 1970's Louisiana oil boom was followed in the 80's by a bad
recession. As tensions on imports lessened, the price of oil fell and
oil reserves on the shallower continental shelf became drilled
The Gulf of Mexico was actually declared the dead sea, that they
didn't believe it would rebound. You see a re-organization in the
industry, with the consolidation of companies. A lot of the small
companies go bankrupt.
But advancements in the 70's and 80's helped the industry continue
to move deeper.
In 1996, while NASA was launching Space Shuttles in front of TV
cameras in Cape Canaveral,
Shell was drilling to a record depth of 2940 feet, far out of
sight of land in the Gulf's deepwater fields, with a platform
People always thought you could probably drill in deepwater but
you'd never be able to produce it.
It integrated a drilling rig and production facility on the same
Held in place with cables, it could separate oil and gas at sea and
send it to two onshore facilities through a pair of pipelines.
Around the same time, President Bill Clinton signed the Deepwater
Royalty Relief Act, reducing federal taxes on production in
order to incentivize investment in the deepwater fields.
So, when the industry starts to come back in the nineties, it looks
very different than it was in the seventies...fewer companies, fewer
but larger companies.
Dynamically positioned, semi-submersible rigs, like the
Deepwater Horizon, can work in 10,000 feet of water and drill
wells another 20,000 feet beyond the seafloor.
Deepwater would breath new life into exploration in the Gulf as
massive rigs went to work pioneering these new fields, far
So, today we’re announcing the expansion of offshore oil and gas
exploration, but in ways that balance the need to harness
domestic energy resources and the need to protect America’s natural
In an address given at Andrews Air Force base in March of 2010,
President Obama announced the first expansion of exploration in federal
waters in nearly 30 years.
Revising President Bush's plan for leasing, he announced that new
areas off the Atlantic coast, Alaska's North Slope, and the Gulf
of Mexico would be considered.
One month later, the worst oil spill in U.S. history was beginning
to unfold and he was forced to put his plans on hold.
They keep telling me that, this ain't gonna be around. It's been
hard the past couple of years because of the price of the shrimp
been real low, you know? And then with that oil spill and not even
being able to work last year, you know. I had said I had planned to
work here after but now, I think I'm just gonna get a regular job,
just be able to do that better. Port Fourchon, hopefully. After the
moratorium and all, if things pick down there, I'd like to work down
there in Fourchon.
I don't think the average American understands how entrenched are
society is in petroleum products. Oil and gas doesn't just go in our
cars to fuel it or go in our engines to run it. You know, from
the shoes on your feet to the laptop we like to use when we're
traveling. We enjoy those luxuries. This world is dependent
on petroleum products.
When there's all this critique from outside about Louisianans being
involved in oil and gas, many people down there have a hard time
taking that. Its like, "well you're willing to use the oil.
You're willing to turn on your light switch, drive your car."
In 2010, the year of the BP spill, the Louisiana oil and gas industry
directly employed about 58,000 people and created an additional
260,000 oil-related jobs, about 17% of jobs in the state.
The oil industry has become a part of everyday life for those on the
coast. And thanks to new discoveries in the deepwater, it
will continue to play an increasingly important part of life
in the years to come.
When we first had the place, the water level was a certain height in
Leeville and every year it looks like I've gotta raise the parking
lot six inches.
We put $50,000 worth of oyster shells in that parking lot....down,
Did the oil companies have a part in it? Of course, when you cut
pipelines in the marsh, unnatural waterways, of course its gonna eat
up. And, I mean, back then, you know, Louisiana politics...you can
do this, do that, you know, not thinking about the future.
The digging and the digging of canals and all that. We never saw
it coming. To us it was, "Hey, it's the way of the future, you know
man. That's the way its going, brother. We're gonna make money
Is it worth when you lose your land? I mean, this is all stuff you
can get back. So, I mean, now, no. I don't think it was worth it. You
know, I think they could have found another way, you know, but back
then that was the old time politics.
I don't think they would ever let it sink around here because they
gotta get to that port, you know? That's their gold mine for them big
billionaires who own their oil companies and all.
We need an elevated highway cause LA1, current LA1, is just not
reliable enough anymore.
The current project now is phase 1, the bridge over Bayou Lafourche and
its connectors. The LA1 coalition is currently working on the next
phase, which is phase two of this project, and that's to get from
Leeville to Golden Meadow inside the federal levee system and that's
expected to cost anywhere from $150-$300 million. So we realize,
that $300 million is not going to come from federal government. So,
they're really looking right now to break it down to $100 million
federal, $100 million state and really this an unprecedented thing
but trying to get a $100 million from private industry that uses the
Unless something drastically changes in the next five or so
years, you'll see Port Fouchon being an island, kind of like the
keys, with an elevated highway getting to it but we'll still be
able to provide to needs for the industry because we can save Port
Fourchon, we can protect Port Fouchon. I just don't know that we
can protect the rest of the fringe marsh.
Hydrocarbon components last 50-75 years in the environment. What
will be the long-term impact of those things, on the benthic
organisms and things further up the food chain?
Sightings of oil in the marsh decreased along the coast over
time, response efforts preventing a large amount of the total oil
spilled from coming ashore.
Landings data on seafood harvests since the spill show that catches
have declined slightly, overall, but not in a way that suggests that
it couldn't be related to other changes in the ecosystem, or
natural fluctuations of populations in the species.
Data showed that more than 8000 birds, sea turtles and marine
mammals had been injured or killed.
Deepwater coral was found to be coated with oil and dying.
While most have trusted the seafood to be safe to eat, any long-term
impacts on fisheries remain to be seen, and several early indicators
have hinted that trouble may lie ahead.
Every link of the food chain, we're seeing problems: dolphins in
Barataria Bay that were incredibly sick because of BP's oil, all the
way down to microorganisms.
Studies conducted since the spill have raised concerns about certain
organisms that serve as important links in the food chain, finding
that plankton are susceptible to chemical dispersants and small
minnows known as Killi Fish, or mud minnows, may be developing
This little fish that no one eats--we don't eat it--but
everything we eat eats it, so it plays an important part in the
...findings about endocrine system, in these fish and whether or not
their ability to reproduce will be compromised in the future.
And in 2014, a study found that Tuna and Amberjack embryos that
were exposed to the oil, developed deformities that would likely kill
some developing fish.
We won't know the long term impact until we get to the long term.
There is no real experience with this in this ecosystem.
You know, it's too early to say, ultimately, what's happened because
of BP's oil and because of the historic amount of Corexit they put
on that oil but I think, we are not out of the woods yet.
For residents of the coast, especially those who depend on the
seafood harvest for their livelihood, the long term effects
will be a constant question mark in their future for years to come.
If it wouldn't be for the oil industry, what would it be down
here? Nothing. Nothing--We could leave Louisiana if it wouldn't be
for that. You know?
You had to advance with the times. You don't want to see your kids
grow up in a place where they don't have no jobs. Like my grand kids,
after they finish with their schooling and all that. Man, it
scares me so bad that they're going to have to move away, if they can't
find enough....refrigeration and whatever I'm sending them to school
Man, I see very few kids right now, paying attention to the culture.
Very few. There's no way it can be saved. It's scary for the future.
I always planned on speaking French to my grandkids and it didn't
I'm less Cajun, I would say, then my grandpa is. I don't speak Cajun
French. It's just a certain way of life, you know? But, I still feel
it in me definitely.
We would be gone already if we didn't build the levee system and
this buys us this generation, maybe another generation. I'm gonna die
at the end of my life. But today I sit here. Do I say, "well, I'm not
gonna do anything I'm gonna die"? People think things last forever.
Nothing lasts forever.
It's not a forever thing. Some places are too far gone.
Leeville's too far gone.
Does it make sense today? Now today, our people here are all over
the world running tugboats and we still catch a hell a lot of fish
and shrimp. Does it make sense, to try to hang on to this? Today it
We've always figured out something else to do. I mean, I'm not
diminishing the problem in the least. The problem is terrible and
there are a lot of us who are terribly abusing the natural
ecology. But something is going to happen. You know? People are not
just going to go away, give up. People have never done that. Won't
now. Something else will happen and whatever it is will likely
Will I say disasters will keep occurring? Unfortunately, yes. I
don't see any way that you're not ever gonna to have another
disaster. This is an unknown, huge force. We're drilling into the
earth with incredible temperatures and pressures and no matter how
much you think you know, something can happen. We still, we don't
have perfect information.
In March of 2012, BP's lawyers agreed to terms in the Deepwater
Horizon Economic and Property Damages Settlement.
While some of those impacted by the spill received ample compensation
from BP, others struggled financially in the years after the
spill, some electing to continue to pursue damages in court instead of
joining in the class action settlement.
As time passed, sightings of visual oil decreased, most of the
estimated 4.9 million barrels dispersed through a combination of
response efforts and being naturally broken down in the
But in August of 2012 and again in October of 2013, storms kicked up
tar on Louisiana's beaches that was chemically matched to BP's well.
BP had paid out over $11 billion in civil penalties and fines and more
than $14 billion in cleanup costs. Their total penalties could include
as much as another $29 billion. BP was found guilty of gross
negligence in a 2014 ruling so Clean Water Act fines could be
imposed as high as $4300 per barrel.
Now that we have this spill, there will be penalties. There will be a
lot of money available. This is the positive side of a terrible thing,
is that, the cancer, we may have the funds to start dealing
seriously with that cancer.
On June 29, 2012, the RESTORE Act, the first major act of congress in
response to the BP spill, was signed into law by President Obama,
passing in both the house and senate and voted for by all members
of Louisiana's delegation.
The bill would commit 80% of the Clean Water Act fine imposed on BP
to the restoration of the environment and economies of the
I think we've got the opportunity with the spill that brings together
a lot of federal agencies at the top level to have those
conversations about how they do it better.
The first step in putting a system in place that can allow
sustainability here in certain areas as long as we continue those
projects in perpetuity.
If it'd be forty years ago, I'd be optimistic, from what I saw, what
we had. We could really hang on without spending a hell of a lot of
money. Today, I'm hopeful that we can do the right things and hang on
to the majority of what we have.
Polling conducted just one year after the spill showed that 56% of
Americans favored expanding offshore drilling. Despite the
risks, drilling in the Gulf accounts for about 23% of total
U.S. petroleum consumption.
By the end of 2012, there were more rigs working in the Gulf of Mexico
deepwater than before the BP spill, including two large fields operated
by BP. The deepwater fields will continue to be a tremendous
opportunity for the economic growth for the Gulf Coast but with
increased drilling comes increased risk, the cost of which remains to