America’s Energy Coast
Working Toward New Energy and Ecological Sustainability
For the Gulf Coast
By John Hill
With so much attention being paid to U.S. energy policy, it may come as a surprise that the majority of our nation’s offshore energy supply is produced in just four states, known as America’s Energy Coast. Centuries of erosion and damage to theGulfCoast nowpose a real and immediate threat to the future of our energy stability. Fortunately, an alliance of business executives, nongovernmental organization leaders and elected officials has come forward to protect and rebuild this delicate and vital region—but they can’t do it alone.
For thousands of years—starting long before the building of the pyramids and continuing through the Dark Ages and the Industrial Revolution — Mississippi River floodwaters annually deposited sediment, slowly building the deltaic land from southern Missouri through the Gulf Coast.
But following the greatMississippi flood of 1927, the U.S. built the levee system and jetties that sent sediment into the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Robbed of annual replenishment, coastal marshes began eroding into the Gulf at the rate of a football field every 38 minutes. Since 1932, an area of land equivalent to that of the state of Delaware has disappeared.
Former Louisiana GovernorMike Foster sounded a clarion call in 2001 and launched the America’s WETLAND Foundation (AWF) to inform the nation about the plight of the Gulf Coast region and the loss of national assets.
Then, in 2005, the grave lessons of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita drove home the coast’s national importance. Gasoline, grain and seafood prices spiked. The AWF had so successfully delivered news to the media that land loss was a prominent part of coverage.
The America’s Energy Coast Accord
Today,the vulnerable states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, which contribute 90% of the nation’s offshore energy production, 30% of its energy supplies and 30% of its seafood, are joining together as “America’s Energy Coast”(AEC) and forming a new accord for sustaining the Gulf region. Launched by the AWF, the AEC is a unique initiative created to bring divergent interests together to help educate America, shape public policy and speak with one voice inWashington.
“The Gulf Coast region has a proud history of providing energy for our nation,”says Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. “However, the hurricanes of 2005 showed us all the price we pay for the loss of our coastal wetlands and marshes.”
No Political Divide on Coastal Issues
Jindal, a Republican, and U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu of New Orleans, a Democrat, both support the Gulf Coast initiative, demonstrating nonpartisan unity.
“Without a healthy, sustainable coast, there can be no energy production, fisheries, ports and transportation routes to carry the nation’s commerce or wildlife habitat for thousands of different species of animals and plants,” Jindal says.
Landrieu, who partnered with former U.S. Senator Trent Lott (R-Miss.), both serving as honorary AEC chairs, says it became clear years ago that the four energy-producing Gulf Coast states “really had so much in common and had been, through the years, so short-changed.
“When Katrina and Rita hit, that forged the idea for the AEC,”Landrieu says. “When our infrastructure goes down, your lights go out. When the Mississippi River ports shut down, you feel it everywhere.”
R. King Milling, a New Orleans banker who chairs the foundation, says energy, shipping and fisheries are assets common to the four states. “We are all faced with the same reality that there are natural and governmental forces that work against us,” Milling says. “We need to put all these resources together and really begin to speak with a shared voice.”
In addition to voluntarily limiting our greenhouse gas emissions, this
includes coastal restoration, energy
efficiency, environmental community
improvements and recycling.
We recognize that coastal wetlands are vitally important to the safety, well-being and quality of life in the Gulf Coast region. The wetlands provide a natural buffer against hurricane storm surges and are integral to the continued sustainability of Entergy’s service territory. As a leader in the utility industry, we strongly believe in making a difference for our communities and for future generations.
In business and in life, probability diminishes in importance as the risk of catastrophic consequences rises. Entergy has both a moral and financial obligation to take action now regarding climate change. If not, future generations will face the consequences of our apathy towards the environment.
National pollster Jim Kitchens found
regional solidarity in a recent poll of 1,200
residents of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi
• 86% say the federal government should protect the coastal areas that provide energy to the nation;
• 75% think coastal communities that support the offshore production industry should receive extra impact aid;
• 84% say America takes for granted the role the energy-producing states have in national security.
“It is just a lack of knowledge of how critical this area is to the nation’s security,” says Mark Hurley of Houston, president of Shell Pipeline Co. and AEC Industry Council chair. “I want the AEC to be a forum for the challenges of sustaining the coast as a supplier of the nation’s energy needs. To solve the numerous problems we face along the Gulf Coast, we have to find common ground that will be the basis for solutions.”
The rich Gulf Coast eco-culture is a national asset. “This is an international ecological treasure that in itself is worth saving,” Hurley adds.
Historically Opposing Interests Help Forge AEC Accord
ValsinMarmillion, an AEC leader, says critics doubted opposing interests could sit in the same room for balanced dialogue. “But over the past year, energy, environmental, conservation, civic, governmental and research representatives have taken their seats at the table, and the first accord for a new sustainability of the Gulf Coast is imminent,”Marmillion says.
Collaboration is a necessity, says Melody Meyer, president of Chevron Energy Technology in Houston. “This region impacts all we do as an energy provider. There is a need for all interests to have a seat at the table. That’s how we’ll find and implement real solutions.”
ConocoPhillips, the largest private owner of wetlands in the U.S. and one of the largest landowners in south Louisiana, has operations in all four states that make up America’s Energy Coast, explains Jim Knudsen, president of the company’s Lower 48 exploration and production organization.“In today’s changing business, political and environmental landscapes, we know it is imperative that we work together with all interested parties to make sure this coastal region is protected and sustained,” he says.
Unified, Natural Solutions Needed
Problems of energy production,climate change and the eroding coast must be examined as a whole,not individually,says Louisiana State University oceanography professor Robert Twilley, an AEC leader.
“We need more natural approaches, environmental engineering solutions that include harnessing the power of the Mississippi to replenish the marshes. But it must not damage navigation. The whole idea is to take the benefits of one sector and make sure they accrue to the benefit of other sectors,”Twilley explains.
Producing energy and protecting the environment are not mutually exclusive, says Jerry Patterson, Texas Land Office commissioner and an AEC steering committee member. “Considering the strategic importance of the Gulf Coast to U.S. energy security and the global importance of the sensitive Gulf ecosystem, we must look at this region’s coastal policies in the long term,” he says.
Environmental Concerns Are a Critical Part of Accord
The ecosystem is threatened, says Bill Walker, director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources in Biloxi. “Issues like habitat restoration and water quality are directly related to the amount of wetlands — and those issues are not constrained by political boundaries. We realize whatever is good for one state in that consortium is good for all the states,” he says.
The National Wildlife Federation’s Susan Kaderka, an AEC member, says U.S. investment in the coast will pay off. “The landscape of the Gulf Coast is a national treasure—an ecological,economic and cultural treasure that is slipping away. As a country we need to understand that restoring this landscape is not just a big expense; it’s an important investment that will yield returns for generations to come,” Kaderka says.
Shipping Is a Major Concern
Port of New Orleans Director Gary LaGrange notes that 10 of the nation’s top 14 ports are along the Gulf Coast. The Mississippi River is the trunk of a 14,500-mile navigation system. The Gulf Intracoastal Water Way is a 15,000-mile system.Both are endangered.
“If you want something to work in Washington, you have to have a coalition,” LaGrange says. “You are not effective when you speak state by state.”
The Gulf IntracoastalWaterWay is vulnerable, says Raymond Butler ofHouston, director of the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association. “This system is moving 123 million tons of goods a year, most of it petroleum or petrochemical products. Erosion is one of our major problems… we are hoping to direct some action from Congress.”
Another issue is that the maritime industry is challenged by a lack of qualified personnel,while onshore fabrication infrastructure is threatened.
“There is a worldwide shortage of mariners,”says Sam Giberga, chief administrative officer of Hornbeck Marine, a major offshore service company. “We see the need for high-level, integrated thinking about issues that will affect us for the next 100 years, all the way from the need for mariners to the land loss.”
Action must be swift, Twilley warns: “There is a certain urgency because we are facing challenges today that other coastal states will not face for another 25 or 30 years.What we do or fail to do will have lasting consequences — and we won’t be able to turn back the clock.”
For more information about the America’s WETLAND Foundation, go to www.americaswetland.com.
Formore information about the AWF’s America’s Energy Coast initiative, go to www.americasenergycoast.org.
In all of the company’s operations, the highest environmental
standards are implemented to
ensure that the company’s actions
today will not only provide energy
but also secure a stable environment
ConocoPhillips’ acquisition of Burlington Resources in 2006 brought with it approximately 640,000 acres of wetlands in southern Louisiana. With this acquisition, the company became the largest private owner of wetlands in the U.S., raising its visibility as an environmental steward and gaining properties with a long history of major oil and gas production.
These wetlands are a mix of freshwater, saltwater, brackish marshlands and towering bald cypress swamps, wheremanaging the delicate balance of this natural resource requires strong environmental stewardship. The company closely monitors all development and commercial activities on the properties, and at the same time, partners with state and federal agencies on coastal restoration projects, and engages in various efforts to protect endangered species and preserve critical wildlife habitat.