Perhaps the United States’ energy-gorging populace should offer a word of thanks each day for the Gulf of Mexico.
While other promising domestic offshore areas remain off limits to the petroleum industry, the myriad wells producing from reservoirs beneath the Gulf’s waters – both shallow and deep –kick out 30 percent of the nation’s oil supply and more than 20 percent of the natural gas.
The numbers no doubt would be even higher were the GOM’s promising yet still-off-limits eastern region freed up for development.
Four Gulf Coast states – Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama –shoulder the load for supporting this working coast. In fact, 25 percent of the nation’s energy supply reportedly flows through Louisiana alone.
It’s a precarious situation.
For instance, there’s dramatic ongoing wetlands erosion – aggravated still further by hurricanes Katrina and Rita – which poses a major threat to energy, maritime, recreational and cultural assets.
In fact, the two Category 5 hurricanes spotlighted the critical link between the Gulf Coast and the nation’s energy supply. The resulting unmistakable message is that Gulf Coast sustainability is crucial to maintaining the GOM’s significant energy production.
Officials have decided it’s time for a plan to deal with protection and security of the vital region.
America’s WETLAND Foundation (AWF) recently launched the America’s Energy Coast (AEC) Initiative, which is designed to provide a stronger voice for the region via dialogue among representatives of government, industry and non-governmental organizations (NGO) from the four key states.
Target issues for consideration include the significant wetlands loss in the region and the need for national recognition of the links between coastal sustainability and domestic energy security.
Finding a Voice
The AEC Initiative kicked off in late November in Baton Rouge, where Louisiana State University hosted the inaugural meeting in partnership with AWF, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.
Former Louisiana U.S. Sen. John Breaux chaired the meeting, which will be followed by a second confab in Houston this summer.
“We have over 150 local, state and national elected officials on board,” said Val Marmillion, managing director of AWF. “There’s an industry council that Shell Pipeline is chairing, and we invited a large number of groups to be represented from environmental conservation communities, including Environmental Defense, Ducks Unlimited and the National Wildlife Federation.
“With the Initiative, we want to bring the four producing states in the Gulf to a cooperative venture where we can establish a bigger, more prominent voice regarding our coastal impact issues and energy policy in the nation,” he said.
“Often, especially in Congress, measures are considered that are somewhat piecemeal to the broad scope of energy needs in the country,” he added, “and the needs of the producing states.”
In seeking an accord on sustainability for the Gulf Coast, the Initiative is focused on three themes: climate, energy and the coast. The impetus for this focus stems from the fact that these issues all are interrelated.
Officials believe there is potential for significant opportunities to be gained via the states acting together as a region – a little bit of cooperation can go a long way.
“When you have these leaders from different sectors both within and without the government coming together, it’s a first,” Marmillion said. “We think it will do a lot to bring the issue of sustainability to the forefront, which is critical if we’re going to have domestic energy security.
“If we can show the relationship of sustainability in this region to energy development and security, I think the nation will get a different view and a lens to what truly goes on,” Marmillion added.
“We have not had that substantial voice in Washington or elsewhere.
“The consumer states have been driving the train on energy development in the country,” he noted. “Having a voice for energy producing states is an idea whose time is long overdue.
“Trying to have a balanced voice is not easy; people love to take sides on these issues,” Marmilion said. “We’re in the center of the track and gaining momentum as we’re moving.
“I think people are liking that, for a change.”