In the Bayou State, which includes the mouth of the great Mississippi River, we now have battles over water. Yes, water, which Louisiana once thought an inexhaustible resource.
In December, state government for the first time denied a permit requested by an oil company to use water from a scenic river.
The demand for water is for fracking, the common name of hydraulic fracturing, the drilling technique that has released vast amounts of oil and gas. It also uses vast quantities of water, under pressure, to fracture geological formations with resources locked into them.
Water demand for fracking in North Louisiana was a major concern when the giant Haynesville Shale finds were developed in the past few years. Those wells generated millions of dollars in revenues for landowners and the state and were an early part of the fracking revolution that has transformed the nation’s energy markets.
The latest decision is not a shutdown of fracking: The Texas-based company will still be able to drill in East Feliciana Parish — where part of the potentially huge Tuscaloosa finds of oil and gas are located. But the company was not allowed to get its water from the Amite River, part of the state’s designated scenic waterways. Instead, water from other local ponds was allowed for drilling.
The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has authority over scenic rivers and has previously authorized the use of water for fracking. But the department made another decision in the Amite case, saying that each permit application ought to be evaluated on the local merits of the case.
We think that is a wise precaution, and we hope that state politicians, prodded either by industry or environmentalists, do not make unwise interventions in these decisions.
Louisiana is an energy state. Oil and gas production, refining and petrochemical manufacturing are vital elements of our economy. Yet, we have the resources — a word we use advisedly — of scenic rivers and swamps and bayous. Those are renewable resources in the most fundamental sense, because the economic benefits of tourism are also a vital part of the state’s economy.
We can’t drain the bayou for a well and lose one of the emblems of Louisiana’s heritage that is a selling point for attracting visitors from around the world.
The wise use of natural resources is not a matter for an individual company. Rather, there must be fair and judicious oversight of the private sector’s responsible exploitation of the state’s natural wealth.