Billy Nungesser’s Deal with the Devil
Nungesser pushes for natural-gas exploration in area hardest hit by BP spill
Many local governments are shying away from natural-gas exploration within their borders — indeed, the city of Pittsburgh recently became the largest metropolitan area to enact a ban on natural-gas drilling — and an increasing number of news reports continue to disclose deadly environmental hazards associated with the practice.
It seems an odd time, then, for the president of Plaquemines Parish — the coastal area of southeast Louisiana that was ground zero for the BP oil disaster — to step forward with a new economic development plan for the region based principally on natural-gas drilling.
“Right now there’s billions of dollars worth of gas — proven reserves, 30 years of production — under Plaquemines Parish alone and all of coastal Louisiana,” Billy Nungesser, who became a ubiquitous face of citizen outrage on cable news during the height of the BP spill, told WWL-TV in New Orleans in an interview this morning.
Nungesser went on to suggest that the state government should “put an incentive out there,” mentioning a steep tax cut to oil and gas companies specifically. The idea, he explained, is to “show the companies that are looking at major delays in federal permits offshore” that maybe it’s in their interest to “redirect some of their energy to start drilling in state waters and we’ll get a mini oil-boom here that we could definitely use across the coast.” He added that laying out more red carpet for the energy industry would “put oilfield people back to work.”
When asked about the safety issues that many environmental groups have raised over natural gas drilling, Nungesser insisted that “we don’t need all the bells and whistles…all these reviews, and we sure don’t need these bureaucrats in Washington to decide the permitting process. We need less government involvement.”
In the wake of the BP oil disaster, some in Louisiana took to calling the state’s marriage to the oil industry nothing less than a “deal with the devil.” So to many observers, Nungesser’s plan for Plaquemines Parish — a community that will likely be dealing with the environmental fallout of oil drilling and exploration for years to come — might seem like a deal with, well, the devil’s little brother, the natural gas industry.
Here’s how one influential commentator, Times-Picayune columnist James Gill, sized up the relationship between Louisiana and the energy industry at the height of the spill crisis this July:
Louisiana accepted the dirty role pretty much from the moment the first oil well was sunk here in 1901. The result is a coastal region criss-crossed with canals that provide a conduit for salt water to accelerate the land loss. Chemicals have been leached into the waters for a century, while oil companies never could remember their promises to backfill when they were done raping the landscape.
The scale of the catastrophe, and the reasons for it, have been known for as long as anyone can remember. When he was governor 30 years ago, Dave Treen proposed a tax on energy companies to mitigate the harm they did to the environment. Had he succeeded, Louisiana would certainly have been healthier, and would probably have been more prosperous, today. But Big Oil owned the Legislature.
Nothing has changed since then, although we do have rules to protect the environment along the coast and three miles offshore. Those rules require oil and gas companies to apply for a permit which is supposedly issued only if they can prove the project will produce “no net loss” of marshes. This is the greatest coastal fraud since Jean Lafitte.
If the specter of tap water bursting into flames due to a wayward natural-gas plume doesn’t inspire Louisiana politicians to pause before giving more concessions to the energy industry, then it’s doubtful anything ever will.
The Lookout attempted to reach Nungesser for further comment on the hazards of natural-gas drilling, but his secretary explained that he had taken off for the holidays.