Louisiana Flood Board Sues Oil Industry For Destroying Wetlands

A flood board in Louisiana has sued the oil industry, claiming they had a major role in the loss of wetlands in the bayou.

These wetlands be flooded

Wetlands in Louisiana such as this one have lost their area for various reasons since the 1930s. (Source:  Louisiana Sierra Club, under a CC BY-ND 2.0 License)

For many years, southern Louisiana has been at the whims of two precarious elements, entangled in each other in very weird ways:  The state of the southern wetlands, and the state of the oil industry.  Over the course of many decades, the wetlands in the Louisiana bayou have served as a natural buffer for hurricanes to make landfall, mitigating their impact and protecting areas like New Orleans from the worst damage.  Of course, it failed in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina cleared through Louisiana, leaving a significant part of New Orleans underwater.  In turn, the oil industry has served as a significant source of Louisiana's income for decades.  However, it took a serious hit when an ocean-based oil rig leased by BP, the Deepwater Horizon, caught fire and leaked crude five years later in 2010 in the worst offshore oil spill in American history.

Now, the two are the source of contention, especially for one state government board.  The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, responsible for maintaining the New Orleans levee system, has now sued the oil industry, seeking damages on what they claim is severe loss of wetlands over the past several decades.  Their argument:  The pumping of oil and natural gas caused most of the wetlands to sink underwater.  Additionally, the digging of channels to lay pipelines between well sites and refineries has introduced salt water into the ecosystem, causing untold damage to the flora and fauna.  All told, the damage contributed to a loss of wetlands the size of Delaware.  The board is suing to claim additional money in order further fortify the levee system that must take a bigger hit as a consequence of the wetland loss.

The oil industry, for its part, claims it is doing all it can to help with the wetlands through royalty payments.  They also state that the wetland loss is not just related to the goings of the oil industry: There is also the matter of the diversion of the Mississippi River by businesses and farmers, which reduced the amount of sediment reaching the wetlands and settling, allowing them to grow.  The oil industry believes that such factors have much more to do with it than their role.  For their part, the industry has an ally in the upper reaches of government:  Republican govern Bobby Jindal ordered the flood board to cease the lawsuit, and fire their lawyers.  Whether or not this lawsuit continues is dependent on whether they act on that order.