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Putting in a Plan for the Shrimpers and Wildlife of Louisiana

The in-depth analysis in the two stories in this week’s Wall Street Journal provided clear insight into the minuscule details of the disaster that unfolded, the lives that were lost, and the reality of what the communities in southern Louisiana, Florida, and the mid-Atlantic states will be facing.  In a recent study, I worked on a project with North Carolina shrimpers, and came to learn of the hardship that these individuals face.  The economic reality is tthat 80 to 90 percent of shrimp is imported, and that the small market for locally harvested seafood is already under extreme economic price pressure.  Many shrimpers were barely scraping by, and could barely get enough for their catch to justify the gas in their engines.  Many shrimped because it was a way of life, because they loved to be on the water, and their great grandfathers had caught shrimp before them.  Our report concluded that shrimpers in North Carolina South Carolina, and Louisiana should collaborate to promote local, sustainable seafood that is environmentally safe, sustainable, and supports local communities.

Well, so much for that plan.  It now appears that the shrimping communities will be devastated, as oil continues to emerge from the gushing gash on the ocean floor.  BP’s “Top Kill” has failed miserably, and plans are now in place to try to siphon off “most” of the oil.  A second well two months from now may be able to stop the oil, but until then, BP is focused on containment, and the news is all bad for shrimpers and for wildlife, which will be irreversibly destroyed.  It took 30-40 years to clean up the mess of the Exxon Valdez ….most of us reading this will still be hearing about the cleanup for the remainder of our lives…

The WSJ paints a picture of what happened.  In the end, like so many disasters, it was a series of tiny errors, bad calls, mis-judgement, poor communication, and inexperience that led to this disaster.  Without going into all of the technical details, this boils down to the fact that deep sea oil exploration is a tricky and complex business, and that in a rush to cap the well, rushed decisions were made that led to a major disaster.   The men who lost their lives on the well were experienced, hard working individuals, who knew what they were doing.  But it was a series of errors that led to this disaster.

Obama declared that all offshore gas exploration is now halted.  Judson Bailey in his blog notes that 

With all deepwater operations ordered halted by the President for another 6 months, a significant amount of uncertainty has been created for the offshore drillers for the remainder of 2010 and, in our view, 2011. Although the market was anticipating an extension, the extension was longer than expected while the President’s order to immediately stop drilling all deepwater wells was a shock to almost everyone in the industry.

After the announcement yesterday, operators and service contractors were scrambling to get clarity on the President’s new mandate. Previously, it was assumed that operators could proceed to drill additional deepwater wells if they had approved permits; this no longer appears to be the case as the Administration appears to be ordering all wells currently being drilled to shut down.”

BP’s disaster will affect the entire global oil and gas industry, as it should.  The time for reviewing disruption and contingency planning for federal and industry groups has never been more important than now.