I read Raymond Cloninger’s letter in this newspaper entitled “Closed refinery may signal future,” and while I share his concern, I think there’s a more productive way of thinking about this issue.
People in Louisiana, from our congressional delegation down to local opinion writers, decried the idea of transitioning from fossil fuels as soon as they heard it from candidate Joe Biden’s lips. Of course, they did.
The oil and gas industry represents one-fifth of the gross state product for Louisiana. Thousands of our fellow Louisianians work in the industry. The industry has made substantial contributions to our educational and cultural life in Louisiana. But now that we’ve had time for our collective freakout, let’s consider this idea objectively for a moment, maybe even do a cost-benefit analysis.
For all the benefits the oil and gas industry has brought to Louisiana, it is undeniable that there have been costs as well. Louisiana ranks 18 out of 50 states in cancer-related deaths (National Center for Health Statistics). Consider also the environmental damage just from the Deepwater Horizon spill. Then, there’s the inevitable boom-and-bust economic environment that results from depending on oil-and-gas severance taxes to prop up the state’s budget.
Is this refinery closing the proverbial canary in the coal mine? Shouldn’t we start thinking about what happens next?
Texas, our neighbor and fellow oil-producing state, has already started moving toward more renewable energy. According to an Electric Reliability Council of Texas report, since 2019 seven wind and solar projects have come online in Texas. Even though Texas still produces more oil than any other state, other industries, such as medicine, aerospace, travel, entertainment and technology have grown to considerable prominence. In the retail sector, several of the biggest employers in the country are headquartered in Texas, according to the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.
I don’t know if Louisiana can compete with Texas in all these industries, but with the volatility of oil prices and the oil-and-as business in general, it might be time for us to start thinking about the opportunities that renewable energy sources and other non-energy related industries might present. We would do well to consider what could replace those plants and the jobs and revenue they produce before another refinery closes.