In his recent letter titled “Energy and the environment are compatible” Tyler Gray, President of the Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association, contends that in addition to providing jobs and significant tax revenue for the state, the oil and gas industry is a primary funding source for Louisiana’s coastal restoration efforts. He is only telling half the story. The oil and gas industry has something that may be just as valuable as money to the long term sustainability of the Louisiana coast — scientific knowledge and data.
Woody Gagliano reported to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2003 that a century of oil and gas activity as made southeast Louisiana “one of the most understood geological provinces on earth.” Gagliano is CEO of Coastal Environments Inc, and a recipient of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He wrote in The Louisiana Civil Engineer Journal of the Louisiana Section of The American Society of Civil Engineers: “Remarkably, there has been an information disconnect between the geologists and geophysicists working in the petroleum industry and the community of scientists, engineers and planners engaged in coastal restoration. The restoration community is largely oblivious to the tectonic dynamics of the region. A major goal of the research reported herein is to apply the knowledge gained from the interactive tectonic depositional model, as derived from the rock and landform record, to a better understanding of modern coastal change. This, in turn, will strengthen the basis for planning and design of coastal restoration projects.”
This finding was echoed in the 2018 report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine titled “Understanding the Long-Term Evolution of the Coupled Natural-Human Coastal System: The Future of the U.S. Gulf Coast”. The report recognized a critical research gap in understanding the causes, rates and patterns of subsidence along the Gulf Coast, and it recommended to “create an incentive structure that fosters information sharing between the energy industry and other stakeholders, as well as protocols for how to engage more effectively to facilitate information sharing.”
Gray is correct that working together the oil and gas industry and the people of Louisiana have achieved great things for over a century. Now we have to find a way to work together to bring the vast geological knowledge base within the oil and gas industry more fully into the coastal sustainability effort. This will require much greater levels of cooperation from both the state and the industry than we have seen over the past few years.
president, New Orleans Geological Society Memorial Foundation