Billy Nungesser Credit: Plaquemines Parish
BP's Macondo well became a geyser of oil and fire in 2010 and still pollutes Gulf shores.
BP’s Macondo well became a geyser of oil and fire in 2010 and still pollutes Gulf shorelines. Credit: U.S. Coast Guard

At a Chamber of Commerce luncheon sponsored last August by his employer, BP community relations manager Peter Clifford reminded citizens of Saint Mary Parish that they should be thankful for BP’s largesse. Gifford said: “If BP would not have invested in this community, trust me, you would notice.”

Clifford also reminded the audience that BP employed thousands of Louisianans to help clean up the record-setting oil spill that fouled the Gulf Coast in 2010 and still pollutes our shores with filth whenever a tropical storm agitates the waters.

It appears we haven’t shown sufficient appreciation to the company that last year pleaded guilty to environmental crimes, obstruction of Congress and felony manslaughter. Pardon our manners. After all, as Clifford pointed out, BP sponsors the Shrimp and Petroleum festival. Where would we be if they up and left?

Recently, Louisiana Oil and Gas Association president Don Briggs wrote that BP had been “raped and pillaged by anyone who had any sort of business on the Gulf Coast.” It was a reference to claimants he charged with taking advantage of the terms of BP’s oil spill settlement. As for the local Flood Protection Authority’s lawsuit to hold 97 oil, gas and pipeline firms accountable for coastal damage,  Briggs said that’s nothing less than “court-sanctioned extortion.”

Between the rapacious lawyers, the fevered environmentalists and the unappreciative coastal residents — poor old Big Oil can’t seem to catch a break. Back in August, the poobah of Plaquemines Parish was quick to join those pooh-poohing the Flood Protection Authority’s lawsuit:

“We can’t just go into the deep pockets (of the oil and gas industry) every time we’re scared of losing land,” said Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser. He said the dramatic expansion of drilling in northwest Louisiana has shown “they don’t have to drill in southern Louisiana.”

I love Nungesser’s dismissive use of the phrase “every time” — as if coastal loss is some recurring nuisance, like a pesky gnat. Plaquemines Parish has lost vast swaths of land in recent decades, and could still lose much more. It is arguably at the epicenter of worldwide coastal loss. But Nungesser went out of his way to minimize the threat and invoke the specter of oil firms hightailing it to other regions. And he has opposed a move by the Plaquemines Parish Council to follow the lead of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East more or less exactly: sue Big Oil for coastal damages.

The public statements by Clifford, Briggs and Nungesser are patently absurd. But, like many others, they came and went without much notice or controversy.

An oil boom has followed a historic oil disaster during an ongoing coastal crisis. But don’t dare connect any of those elements in a cogent plea for Big Oil to be held accountable for the damage done to our shores and wetlands. No ma’am! You’ll be shouted down as an unhinged wacko who hates the “job creators” — as if jobs are bestowed from on high, instead of a mutually beneficial contract between two parties.

We’ve continue to swallow ludicrous, fear-laced arguments from Big Oil’s policymakers while the southern third of our state dissolves. Then we re-elect them.

“They don’t have to drill in southern Louisiana.” Oh, really? I’ll detail why this is pure balderdash in my next column. Suffice it to say, if we understood the mineral wealth in and around Louisiana, we wouldn’t fear oil companies leaving — at least not until there are no more hydrocarbons to exploit.

If it weren’t so insulting, it would be grimly amusing how such a lucrative industry always postures as teetering on the brink of financial disaster. Just one added cost of business, and it will all go to pieces, they warn hysterically. Hit us with a processing tax or drilling moratorium or a coastal erosion lawsuit and the immensely profitable multi-nationals will up and leave our oil fields.

But that’s not an argument based on facts— that’s sowing fear to buoy profits, folks.

Of course fear-mongering works exceedingly well here. We have a “company town” mentality. Actually, since it infects an entire region, perhaps we should call it Battered Coast Syndrome. Drilling means jobs. You’re either for it or against it — so get with the program, bub. Don’t make trouble, I’ve got mouths to feed…

And our onrushing coastal crisis nears the point of no return.

If you think that is an overstatement, consider that the largest protest in Louisiana during the oil disaster, to my knowledge, was on behalf of drilling! Or enter into this thought experiment: Imagine a candidate voters reject because he is TOO cozy with Big Oil. Impossible! Whereas a candidate who argues for even a scintilla of accountability is almost immediately disqualified.

Previously, I laid blame on the reckless loyalty of state leaders to powerful oil and gas interests. But we — their constituents — also deserve a hefty chunk of the blame. We’ve continued to swallow ludicrous, fear-laced arguments from Big Oil’s policymakers while the southern third of our state dissolves. Then we re-elect them.

Mark Moseley

Mark Moseley blogs at Your Right Hand Thief. Until mid 2014, Mark Moseley was The Lens' opinion writer, engagement specialist and coordinator for the Charter Schools Reporting Corps. After Katrina and...