Louisiana has seen its fair share of flooding and hurricane damage due to the loss of its wetlands, and now the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East is suing 97 oil and gas companies for the destruction of these ecosystems. The marshes act as a buffer between the ocean and land, and since the 1930’s Louisiana has lost wetland areas the size of Delaware, and degradation is continuing on the scale of a football field’s worth of wetlands . On July 24, the board decided to seek reparations in order to help maintain the levee systems that needed to be erected in order to replace the natural function of the wetlands.
The Vice President of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East board, John Barry asserts the industry has contributed to the decline of wetlands by causing the land to sink during resource extraction. They have also dug thousands of miles of ditches to reach wells and lay pipe, letting saltwater flow inland and kill vegetation. Without plants to hold the soil in place, the land is free to recede into the ocean. A study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2000 found that the oil and gas industry was responsible for a third of wetland loss. Other scientists attribute the loss to a combination of natural and man-made developments, including the redirection of the Mississippi River. For centuries, the Mississippi has been redirected to aid in agriculture and transportation, preventing sediment from reaching the Louisiana Delta and replenishing the soil.
The president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, Don Briggs, believes the engineering of the Mississippi is primarily to blame for wetland degradation. Furthermore, he asserts that the industry already pays millions of dollars in royalties to restore the habitat. Some legal experts, such as Tulane University Law School research fellow Mark Davis point out that legislators have previously been hesitant to ask the industry to pay for the true cost of its damages for taking advantage of resources that should belong to everyone. As if to illustrate his point, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has ordered the board to dismiss its lawsuit and fire its lawyers.
Images via the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Wikicommons user Jacinta Quesada.