As lunchtime foot traffic filled the halls of One Shell Square, a fantastic group of concerned citizens and activists carrying signs and shouting “Shell Fix the Coast You Broke!” followed a major celebrity and his entourage into Shell Oil’s New Orleans headquarters. The star carried an oversized invoice charging the company $361,984,000 for the cost of restoring wetlands that the company has destroyed.
Who was this Hollywood star, using his megawatt smile to help ensure a sustainable response to hurricane Katrina? Brad Pitt? John Goodman? Harry Shearer?
Oh nooooooo! This cause has been championed by the one, the only, the play-doh, Mr. Bill of classic Saturday Night Live, and a current national MasterCard “priceless” commercial. Mr. Bill (seen below with security detail and starlets in tow) waltzed into One Shell Square to hand Shell the bill, and helped kick off a new campaign aimed at holding oil and gas companies responsible for the role they have played in wetlands loss.
Working with a fantastic coalition that included Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Rodnreel.com, the Sierra Club, United Houma Nation, the Alliance for Affordable Energy and of course, Walter Williams, New Orleans Filmmaker & Mr. Bill Creator, GRN fired a shot across Shell's bow that even the massive energy corporation can't ignore. There is solid evidence that forty to sixty percent of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands loss can be traced to oil and gas activities, and it is only fair that companies like Shell pay for the cost of the damage they have caused.
While Shell’s fortunes continue to rise, coastal Louisiana’s marshes are disappearing at an astounding rate and thus leaving the whole region more vulnerable to future hurricanes. According to records from the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, Shell Oil has dredged 8.8 million cubic yards of wetlands while laying pipelines since 1983. These activities alone have caused the loss of 22,624 acres of wetlands in the last 25 years.
“I am very optimistic that the oil industry will step up and do the right thing,” said Walter Williams, at our press conference “because it is in their own self interest. The wetlands not only protect New Orleans, but they are the only thing protecting their oil infrastructure. Pipes that used to be underground are now exposed to open water and are being battered. What will the price of gas be if the strategic oil reserve suddenly starts emptying into the Gulf?”
We feel the current situation in southern Louisiana informs the national debate around expanding offshore drilling on the Atlantic and Pacific Coast. Increased off-shore drilling would be detrimental to coastal communities, which is clear in the case of Louisiana. Decades of oil and gas activity along the coast have left the Mississippi River’s once mighty delta a pale comparison of its former glory.
Restoring Louisiana’s coast would benefit the state and nation’s economy in countless ways. Every three to four miles of wetlands reduce storm surge by one foot, so reversing the land loss crisis would help guard thousands of homes and businesses from future devastation. “The recreational hunting and fishing industry in Louisiana is a major driver of the state’s economy, but it is increasingly threatened by coastal land loss,” stated Mike Lane, publisher and co-owner of RodNReel.com. “Irresponsible corporations such as Shell Oil have made billions of dollars in profit from the resources of our state and it is time that they gave back to the coast.”
The state of Louisiana and Governor Jindal recently made a laudable commitment to spending more than a billion dollars in state funds on coastal projects in the next four years, but even this massive sum of money is only a down payment to fix the problem of coastal land loss. To truly restore the coast and protect South Louisiana communities will likely require a commitment of upwards of $50 billion dollars, a burden which outstrips the currently identified state and federal revenue streams.
While significant projects have been authorized by the federal government, appropriating these funds will be far more challenging. To ensure Louisiana’s coastal needs are met, parties responsible for the coastal wetlands crisis must be brought to the table. Oil and gas companies like Shell have played an integral part in creating the problem, so it only makes sense for them to help to fix the coast they broke.
Help tell Shell here.
Aaron Viles is GRN's Campaign Director