Rally for Economic Survival signals widespread hostility to moratorium on Gulf drilling

LAFAYETTE, La. – On Wednesday 11,000 people gathered in the Lafayette Cajundome to send a resounding message to Washington. The Rally for Economic Survival’s byline was “Lift the moratorium!” and Governor Bobby Jindal summed up the sentiment in the crowd.

“We don’t want more BP compensation checks; we don’t want unemployment checks; we want to get back to work.”

Governor Bobby Jindal
Governor Bobby Jindal lets Washington and his constituents know what he thinks of the drilling moratorium. He repeated the description from Judge Martin Feldman, who struck down the original moratorium: "arbitrary and capricious."

The Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, as chief organizer of the event, stated the concern among attendees was that “the moratorium will destroy tens of thousands of jobs in Louisiana and devastate the economy.” LOGA president, Don Briggs wanted to emphasize that the community came together in support of the event and its theme. “Almost all supplies were offered at reduced rates, and everyone pitched in and helped in their own way to fund this event.” The rally’s website lists more than one hundred financial and organizational contributors.

Alongside the governor, a host of heavy hitters in Louisianan politics and business participated in the event. Speakers included the lieutenant governor, three parish presidents, and industry association leaders for oil and gas, restaurants, and seafood. They emphasized the moratorium’s economic impact, but they also touched on a wide array of issues related to the oil spill.

While the moratorium has changed and has uncertain legal standing, Don Briggs asserted that the concerns of the relevant companies go beyond just the moratorium. “The bottom line is that neither you nor anyone else is going to invest where there is political uncertainty hovering over the billions of dollars at stake. Right now, companies are packing their bags and moving to Angola, the Congo, where the political environment is more favorable, which is really hard to understand.”

“What happened out there was wrong and should not have happened, but you can’t judge the entire industry by that. In the Gulf of Mexico we’ve drilled 2500 deepwater wells. We have the technology. We can put new guidelines that give oversight to make sure that any drilling programs will have all the necessary steps to keep this from happening again. This does not have to happen again.”

Governor Jindal wanted attendees and viewers (4,000 individuals watched online via live feed.) to understand that not only is deepwater drilling on hold, the Department of the Interior has used the permitting process to halt shallow drilling operations as well. Since the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the rate of approved permits has fallen by more than 90 percent. Only four shallow-water projects have received approval in the last three months, after 19 permits in April and 24 in March.

Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, called upon the leaders in Washington to understand how the moratorium contradicts American values. “Look the word up in the dictionary: embargo, ban, prohibit, postpone, halt, freeze. I say stand still; do nothing. Remember Mr. President, we are at war. You don’t stand still. None of these words correspond with the United States I know, or I thought I knew.” Charlotte Randolph, president of Lafourche Parish, echoed Nungesser’s assertion. “Mr. President, you are out of touch with real America.”

Jim Funk, president of the Louisiana Restaurant Association, sought to quell public misconceptions about the quality and safety of fish being caught. “In all the tests that are being been, there has not been one thing found that is dangerous to your health. I mean zero – absolutely none. There has been no impact… It’s safer than it’s ever been. It’s being tested more than it has ever been before. The only hang up right now is the [Food and Drug Administration].”

Cherri Foytlin, a citizen activist and journalist explained the problems she encountered with the BP claims process, how BP is falling behind, and the need to move beyond it. “I put a claim in to BP. That was almost eight weeks ago, and I left no less than ten messages. When I did finally get through I was given a list of things that I need to provide for them.” However, that list included items that were unavailable to her and that required her to wait on government agencies. Through all her troubles she is yet to receive compensation, and her family’s finances are in “ruins.”

Alongside the venting of frustrations and choruses of “Lift the ban,” a little humor and entertainment crept in. As Charlotte Randolph declared that no industry could take a break for six months, one hero-of-the-hour yelled “Let’s see Washington go on a six month break!” to cheers and laughter all around. And before and after the rally local country music hero Sammy Kershaw performed for the crowd.

The Sierra Club's protest in New Orleans, joined by a range of supporting advocacy groups, including Oceana and the Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster
The Sierra Club's protest in New Orleans, joined by a range of supporting advocacy groups, including Oceana and the Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster

Environmental advocacy organizations, including the Sierra Club and the Gulf Restoration Network, held counter-protests outside the event and in New Orleans on the day prior. While creative with the expression of their message, their presence was overshadowed by the show on offer at Lafayette’s Cajundome.

Rachel Guillory, a supporter at the New Orleans protest and a campaign organizer for Oceana, shared her perspective on behalf of an organization specifically devoted to marine conservation and opposed to all new offshore drilling. She is concerned that local politicians accept “too much money from the big oil companies, and it shows… We need BP to establish a separate fund to retrain our workers that are in the oil industry. They’re all out of work right now, and everybody’s really sensitive about the moratorium, but lifting the moratorium is not the long-term solution… We need to retrain our oil workers into clean energy jobs.”

Fergus Hodgson is the capitol bureau reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy and editor of The Pelican Post. He can be contacted at fhodgson@pelicanpolicy.org, and one can follow him on twitter.