Time for oil and gas industry to come to the table on coastal restoration, author says
For Jason Theriot—LSU grad, historian and former energy policy fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School—coming home to his childhood stomping grounds near Cocodrie in Terrebonne Parish in 2008 was an epiphany. "It was shocking to see how much had changed since I was a kid. The enormity of the erosion is breathtaking," he told listeners at LSU's Hill Memorial Library who came to hear him talk about his book, American Energy: Imperiled Coast, on Monday evening. The spider-web network of pipelines and canals that covers much of Louisiana's coastal wetlands south and west of New Orleans is part of Louisiana's economic and cultural history, Theriot said. It is also his family's history. Canals were dug in the coastal wetlands beginning more than 100 years ago, Theriot acknowledged, but they were maybe the width of two pirogues or just enough to pull a felled tree out of the swamp. "It was the engineering mentality of the '50s and '60s when we really screwed things up," he said, adding the broad canals needed to float barges to build the pipelines became permanent—and expanding—avenues for salt-water intrusion into one of America's richest wetlands. The environmental insensitivity of a half century ago was replaced with a new corporate and engineering mentality that recognizes environmental protection as part of doing business. Companies routinely hire environmental engineers to guide their construction practices today, but Theriot said the old wounds still damage Louisiana, and the oil and gas industry has to get involved in fixing it. "Walt Handelsman [The Advocate's cartoonist] should do a cartoon with a round table. There are 10 chairs representing the stakeholders in restoring Louisiana's wetlands," he said. "Only one chair is empty." And that one belongs to the oil and gas industry, he said. Theriot remains hopeful that Louisiana—and the oil and gas industry—are going in the right direction with the right solutions. Now it's a matter of seeing it through, he said. —David Dodson
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