Guest commentary: Time for partnership, not conflict

06 12, 2014 by The Advocate

During weeks of amplified debate about the state’s oil and gas industry, a key component was missing — collaborating with the oil and gas industry, rather than fighting it.

Louisiana’s oil and gas industry has been a responsible economic and community partner for more than a century. Oil and gas businesses create more jobs than any other industry in Louisiana – almost 300,000 jobs, or the equivalent of all of the sailors and administrators in the U.S. Navy.

The energy industry includes major companies and thousands of Louisiana-based small businesses that pay — by far — the highest employee wages in the state.

According to acclaimed Louisiana economist Loren Scott, Louisiana’s oil and gas industry accounts for nearly 15 percent of total state taxes, licenses and fees collected each year or more than $2.5 billion into the state treasury. Local and parish governments receive more than $1 million per day in taxes, which they use for roads, education, health care and public safety.

As the energy industry grows here, oil and gas businesses voluntarily invest hundreds of millions of dollars in financial resources and countless hours of human resources to protecting Louisiana’s environment and coast. That investment will only increase with hundreds of millions of dollars coming from offshore revenue sharing in the coming years.

From Cameron Parish to St. Bernard Parish, the oil and gas industry has partnered in the donation and protection of tens of thousands of acres of green space, swamp and marshland for coastal and environmental research. The oil and gas industry has helped create miles of artificial oyster reefs and assisted dozens of coastal communities in resiliency planning. The industry has even introduced new programs to sustain the Mississippi River.

These vital partnerships between the energy industry and our communities are growing. In recent days, the Nature Conservancy, along with the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and Chevron, launched the construction of a new artificial oyster reef in St. Bernard Parish. In Baton Rouge, ExxonMobil unveiled an expanded workforce training program to teach prospective workers about a career in the oil and gas industry and other life skills. Shell has worked with many partners to protect road access to Isle de Jean Charles in Terrebonne Parish using floating island ecosystems created from recycled plastics.

Earlier this year, BP and Fletcher Technical Community College in Houma unveiled the Integrated Production Technologies Building to train hundreds of Louisiana students for their careers in oil and gas. Another company has planted more than one million trees to assist in protecting Louisiana’s coast, and the energy industry has decreased air emissions in and around Baton Rouge by more than 40 percent.

This track record of environmental investment and collaboration by the industry goes back decades.

With planned investments in years to come, this commitment to Louisiana can continue for decades in the future. However, this growth will only occur if we travel a path that emphasizes collaboration with the industry, not fighting it.

Look at California to see what could happen. Fifty years ago, the top five industrial companies in California were energy companies. As an atmosphere of legal and business challenges took hold, businesses looked elsewhere to invest. In the last 10 years, California created 20,000 new jobs in oil and gas. Texas generated 10 times that — 200,000 jobs.

Now that the 2014 legislative session is in the books, Louisiana can and should move past talk of who is “on the hook” and “bailouts.” The better conversation is how the oil and gas industry, the hundreds of thousands of Louisianians working in the industry, the state and others can partner to continue protecting and restoring our coast. It’s work that the oil and gas industry began long ago.

Marc Ehrhardt is executive director of Grow Louisiana Coalition.