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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Gulf Oil Leases Spark Outcry But Little Revenue

Air Date: Week of

Blake Kopcho, right, and John Clark, left, were arrested along with two other protestors at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) office in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo: Louisiana Bucket Brigade)

Following unprecedented flooding in Louisiana, citizen activists tried to stop the government’s recent auction of 4,400 oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico, but the auction went ahead despite protests. However, the low price of oil meant that just a fraction of the parcels up for auction were sold. Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade tells Living on Earth’s Helen Palmer why some people living along the Gulf are wary of new drilling in its waters.


CURWOOD: With many linking the unprecendent floods in Louisiana to climate disruption stimulated by rising levels of CO2, a band of protesters in New Orleans recently tried to block the government auction of 4,400 oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade held a sit-in at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and although the auction went ahead online, the group's director Anne Rolfes told Living on Earth's Helen Palmer that they got their message across.

ROLFES: We carried the truth to the feet of the oil industry which was that they are in large part responsible for the floods that devastated south Louisiana. We brought mounds of flood debris and made the point that continued oil drilling in our Gulf of Mexico and all over the globe causes floods like these.

PALMER: And you feel that basically you're part of the world, the New Orleans area, Louisiana, is particularly vulnerable to flooding and to storms.

ROLFES: What's interesting about this last flood is that parts of our state that had never flooded before were overwhelmed with water. So, for example, my childhood home in a town called, Lafayette, Louisiana, had water in it. That had never happened. According to the National Weather Service, the air has so much more moisture in it because we have warmed the planet through the burning of fossil fuels, and so that's the thought process behind this idea that drilling is causing the terrible floods that we recently experienced.

PALMER: Now, you wanted to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to cancel the sale of leases. That didn't happen. But as I understand it, the lease sale wasn't very successful. What exactly happened?

ROLFES: There were not as many bids as there had been in the past on these huge tracts of the Gulf of Mexico that the federal government is offering, and in the recent past this is exactly what's been happening. The oil industry is in what they considered to be a slump. The good news is that means that bids like these are down.

Active BOEM leases in the Gulf of Mexico (Photo: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management)

PALMER: Yeah, there were only 24 out at 4,400 leases actually taken up, and it was a record low amount of revenue offered, that was $18 million. I mean, part of this is because, of course, oil prices are low, but do you think there's anything else going on?

ROLFES: Well, there's no question that the oil industry has some real economic problems facing it. They've got infrastructure out in the gulf that is absolutely falling apart. They are deciding not to repair that infrastructure. They have left, for example, 26,000 wells abandoned in the Gulf of Mexico. So they certainly do have stranded assets, but the only thing that drives this industry is profit. They're not going to do anything because for any other reason there was a rebuttal to our action written by the Louisiana oil and gas industry, and in that rebuttal, they tried to explain how they're helping flood victims and they call us to take for using the flood to attack them, when in fact, when they burn carbon, they melt our planet.

Protestors at the BOEM office sent a message to President Obama asking him to cancel new oil and gas drilling leases on public lands. (Photo: Louisiana Bucket Brigade)

PALMER: Now, your organization, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, is one of the many organizations that really are supporting the Keep It In The Ground movement. Do you think that that movement is being successful and what you see ahead?

ROLFES: One of the great things about this movement is that we are seeing success on a consistent basis. Several months ago in March we sent 300 people into the auction and delivered a very clear message which was that our Gulf was not for sale. In response to that action in March they've banned the public from these auctions of our Gulf of Mexico. And I think what it shows is that they're quite afraid of public opinion. When we went to their office last week, who was there? Two armed guards. I mean, something is really wrong when you have to start to arm people in order to pull natural resources out of the ground. I mean, we certainly see this in countries around the world in places like Nigeria where I worked for several years, but now it's come to Louisiana. And it's a new day. I think what's ahead is more of the same, that we will continue to defend our natural resources and our homes from an industry that really is a predator.

Anne Rolfes is the Founding Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. (Photo: courtesy of Anne Rolfes)

PALMER: Of course, not everyone in Louisiana is against the oil industry. After all, they do provide jobs. What's your argument for that?

ROLFES: Well, if you compare the tourism sector and the seafood sector of our economy, both of those sectors provide more jobs than the oil industry. That's important because the oil industry damages those sectors. I mean, just think about the BP disaster. What did that do to our oyster industry and to our shrimp industry? It damaged it. The very idea that they want to claim jobs with a serious face when they have decimated our part of the world is really quite insulting.



The No New Leases website

Press release on the protest from the Louisiana Bucket Brigade

AP: “4 arrested in protest against federal oil lease sales”

The Guardian: “Obama’s offshore drilling puts whales and dolphins in peril, group warns”

About Anne Rolfes


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