The first round went against the inhabitants of Fortress St. Tammany. Likely, every round will. But, in the end, part of their inconsistent ideology may end up winning the fight for them.
Last week, Louisiana’s Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Conservation ruled that Helis Oil & Gas should receive a permit to drill a vertical well in a tract in the parish. It’s not like this is unprecedented: dozens of wells dot the parish. That the company could come back several months later from doing such and then petition to drill horizontally is what has gotten the attention of the parish’s resident Luddites.
St. Tammany, if going by voter registrations and records, is perhaps the most conservative parish in the state. By way of example, on Nov. 4 for the U.S. Senate it graced (short-time) hometown boy Republican Rob Maness with 19 percent of the vote where he only got 14 percent statewide, and on that day Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy got 52 percent of the parish vote as opposed to his 41 percent statewide. Then on Nov. 6, Cassidy galloped into the Senate with 56 percent of the vote statewide, but hauled in a whopping 72 percent in the parish.
Yet from the volume of rhetoric from an exceptionally vocal minority on the possibility of Helis Oil Company attempting hydraulic fracturing to gain some oil in a rural part of St. Tammany, one would think parish denizens exhibit attitudes atypical to conservatives, exemplified by the masses driving electric cars, monopolizing solar paneling, composting and recycling vigorously, chaining themselves to old growth trees, and wishing to see a spotted owl in every yard and a snail darter in every ditch. Their overcooked verbiage on the possibility of fracking warns of fiery, if not poisonous, drinking water, rivulets of sludge, toxic air, and mysterious if general illnesses decimating the population, turning St. Tammany from East Egg into the valley of ashes.
While already noted has been the concerns are, at the very least, overblown if not, at the most, approaching psychosis, truly remarkably many of those possessing these surely engage in extreme levels of cognitive dissonance that would win researchers of them a Nobel Prize in medicine if scientists could explain how such people can function mentally normally under such conditions. Likely these many rightly guffaw at the environmentalist alarmism of the likes of former Vice Pres. Al Gore and snicker at the absurdity of movies like his An Inconvenient Truth, yet they hold entirely credible claims about fracking straight out of equally discredited Gasland (and its sequel) and religiously search for the scariest claims about the impact of fracking that they possibly can imagine to bolster their beliefs. If the idea of significant anthropogenic climate change, with its reliance on hockey sticks, can be said to resonate on the basis of faith, then the panic derived from fracking represents a cult.
Undeterred by the defeat at this stage, the Luddites hope that a couple of more hoops prior to drilling the exploratory, non-frac, well could sidetrack the intended faux despoilment. Depending upon the speed of things, it might not be until the end of next year until Helis, expected regardless to win these rounds (especially after the state permit puts on stringent conditions that only rarely all appear together), even applies to fracture horizontally.
And by then they may not want to, courtesy of market forces that signal retrenchment in the industry. With oil now in the $55 a barrel benchmark range, this price level if sustained for months will discourage drilling activity that involves the more expensive fracturing process, especially by smaller firms – exactly the scenario getting set up in St. Tammany over this site.
Scratch the parish’s citizens with bunker mentalities and underneath you’ll probably find somebodies who would prefer that the market rather than government signal what kinds of economic activities should take place. They also are likely to support the idea of American energy independence and drilling everywhere possible, and don’t seem too concerned that they’re downwind from two nearby other components of energy independence, nuclear power plants. Yet on this drilling issue they want overly severe government intervention not to regulate reasonably but to regulate out of existence something that when responsibly handled never has been a threat – a fact that discourages similarly situated people across the land from emulating some of their St. Tammany brethren that foam at the mouth over this.
But the opportunity to study the panic displayed by such specimens may fall by the wayside precisely as their concerns may be dissipated by market forces that they see as optimal resource allocators. The market forces that brought about their idyllic paradise that they emote would be destroyed by fracking, delivered by the same, may prove their salvation while government may fail them. Whether this outcome would constitute situational irony or poetic justice depends upon your point of view.