Being Selective On Moratoria

The economic toll from the drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico is beginning to mount. On July 28, Baker Hughes, an international oilfield services company based in Houston, announced that it was moving 300 of its employees and 25 percent of its assets out of Houston. Baker Hughes CEO, Chad Deaton, said that if the moratorium lingers, many companies such as his would be moving the research and development operations overseas to where the drilling will be taking place. Deaton said that 20,000 direct jobs and over 200,000 indirect ones could be lost if the moratorium continues.

But, unfortunately, the moratorium does continue, and there is no indication that the Obama administration has any plans to end it soon.

Everyone who lives and works along the Gulf Coast is concerned about environmental and economic damage emanating from the BP oil spill. In 60 years of drilling offshore in the Gulf, nothing like the Macondo spill has ever occurred in U.S. waters. But, interestingly, every summer the Gulf is damaged by a huge “dead zone” rivaling the size, scope, and severity of the BP spill.

The source of the annual assault on the Gulf isn’t petroleum based. It comes from agricultural runoff from the Mississippi River watershed. Fertilizer and animal waste enter streams and rivers and find their way to the mouth of the Mississippi River during the summer months. Upon entering the Gulf, these nitrates and phosphates cause the naturally occurring algae in the Gulf to erupt into immense algae blooms that die and deplete the oxygen in the water. Annually, some 6,000 to 8,000 square miles of the Gulf become oxygen-depleted and truly become a “dead zone” to aquatic life in those zones.

Here is a news flash: our federal government has known about this annual event for decades but has done little if anything to protect the Gulf from the damage. The problem can certainly be solved—but solving it may have political consequences for our federal politicians.

To reduce the “dead zone,” the federal government would have to interject itself into areas that folks in the farming, and waste treatment industries wouldn’t like. Regulations on cultivation practices and fertilizer usage would have to be imposed. Prohibitions on animal and human waste entering streams and rivers would have to be enacted. That would impact—and upset—many farmers and individuals who live hundreds of miles away from the Gulf of Mexico.

The Gulf could be protected from this annual devastation, but it would take major action on the part of the federal government—something like…a moratorium.

The federal government doesn’t have to wait for months to determine the cause of the annual “dead zone” in the Gulf. Its causes are quite apparent. The same government that thinks nothing about putting tens of thousands of Americans out of work and increasing our dependence on foreign oil by imposing a drilling moratorium, doesn’t seem to have the brass to address the “dead zone.” I wonder why? Could it be politics?

Yes, the Macondo spill has been a devastating event, but it is the first of its magnitude in 60 years. Yet every summer our federal government continues to allow a large section of the Gulf to be killed by folks who live far away and never face any repercussions from the damage they inflict on the waters below them. Some might call that selective use of moratoria to protect the environment. Others might just say it is politics at play. Both would be right.

Dan Juneau is President of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.



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