The presidents of two energy lobbying groups recently lamented the shenanigans currently going on in the Louisiana Legislature in support of the coastal lawsuits. Their assessment misses the bigger picture, and the bigger problem: The coastal lawsuits are based on junk science, and their narratives have misguided the coastal program.
The best way to stop bad lawsuits is with good science, but the data necessary to implement the science remains mostly locked up within the oil and gas industry. Since 2014 nine university research projects have used geological data from the oil and gas industry to study the relationships between wetlands loss and natural subsidence associated with geological faults. Every one of these projects has clearly demonstrated a strong causal relationship among these natural processes.
Unfortunately, these research projects only cover a small portion of the coast, and their results have not yet been adequately integrated into coastal restoration planning and design. The oil and gas industry needs to find a way to get more of its geological data into the hands of university researchers.
At the core of the problem with the lawsuit narratives is the implicit assumption that humans caused wetlands loss, and therefore humans can reverse it. Science reveals that in most of the worst areas of wetlands loss, it is not simply a case of attempting to reverse the impacts of human activity, it is a case of taking on the geophysical forces of nature. This is true at the site of the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion. The hot spot of wetlands loss that it aims to restore is quite clearly a hot spot of subsidence associated with a major geological fault. More sediment in this area of lost wetlands is as likely to accelerate the rate of subsidence as it is to build new land. A thorough geological evaluation of the area is needed to make accurate predictions about the results of the project. The data necessary to do that evaluation is within the oil and gas industry.
The Plaquemines and St. Bernard parish councils recently voted unanimously in opposition to the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion. Their concerns center on the impacts of flooding the saline and brackish estuaries with river water. An accurate scientific assessment of the project using oil and gas industry data would help them get to the correct answer. The oil and gas industry spends millions of dollars a year defending against the bogus coastal lawsuits. An accurate scientific assessment of the causes of wetlands loss using oil and gas industry data would help them to get the correct answer. The parishes and the industry should find a way to work together.