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“An area of land the size of Manhattan is subtracted from south Louisiana every 10 months – it turns to water. A football field every 30 minutes. An area the size of Delaware since the 1930’s. It’s just astonishing how much land has disappeared.”
– Mike Tidwell, author and environmental expert
Find Al Jazeera America near you: www.aljazeera.com/getajam
This Monday, February 16th at 10pm ET/7p PT, Al Jazeera’s Emmy Award-winning “Fault Lines” presents “The Disappearing Delta,” in which “Fault Lines” investigates the impact of the fossil fuel industry on Louisiana's fragile ecosystem.
Correspondent Sebastian Walker and the “Fault Lines” team visit Louisiana’s bayou, dubbed one of the fastest-disappearing land masses on the planet, with nearly 2,000 square miles of land erased from the state’s map in the last century.
Ninety-nine percent of the Isle de Jean Charles, an island once 11 miles long and five miles wide, is now underwater. “[Jean Charles was] destroyed purely by oil and natural gas,” local resident Preston Mayeaux says. “The big deep canals brought in the saltwater intrusion, then they abandoned the canals. And when they abandoned the canals system…. the saltwater goes in and out in and out, killing everything, all the vegetation.”
The “Fault Lines” team came to see what the state's Coastal Protection and Restoration Agency is doing to rebuild land with sediment from the Mississippi River, visiting one project among hundreds in a $50 billion plan to restore the coast. The only problem? Louisiana doesn't have that kind of money. “We can’t protect everyone from everything, and there’s an inherent vulnerability living with the coast,” says Jerome Zeringue, head of the CPRA. “Louisiana is doing what it can to participate and protect this valuable resource, but it’s a national issue and a national concern. And we need national interests to support us as well.”
But who’s responsible for the damage? “Fault Lines” explored the disappearing wetlands at Venice gas fields, where Chevron and other major firms have operated for decades. “The oil companies should be involved in [restoration efforts]. They benefited from Louisiana, and the people of Louisiana benefited from the oil companies,” said coastal restoration expert Ryan Lambert. “It’s all a circle. You can’t just blame the oil companies. They need to come to the table and help.”
Yet the question of who is accountable for the wetlands disappearance is still unresolved. Baton Rouge attorney Don Carmouche is pursuing a several lawsuits against oil, gas and pipeline companies in two Louisiana parishes. In Plaquemines Parish, an area heavily reliant on the industry for jobs, Councilman Byron Marinovich supported the legal challenge as a way to fund sorely needed restoration efforts. “What we need to do is start building these coasts back so we don’t have these super hurricanes coming through here like Katrina,” he says. In December 2014, he lost his re-election bid to an industry-supported candidate.
The elections race in Plaquemines Parish was influenced by an organization known as LOGA, or Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. “Fault Lines” attends one of the group’s meetings to find out why it was so important to be involved.
“These all-encompassing lawsuits to sue the oil and gas industry so you can force a settlement so the lawyers can make a bunch of money isn’t going to solve any of the problems that Louisiana has with our coast,” says LOGA Vice President Gifford Briggs.
Meanwhile, as Louisiana’s oil industry battles lawsuits onshore, the industry is shifting focus to offshore deep water drilling. “Fault Lines” went to the Gulf of Mexico to explore a new frontier for exploration, known as offshore fracking, with Jonathan Henderson of the Gulf Restoration Network.
“The industry has kept pretty silent about the amount of fracking that’s going on, and the federal agencies charged with issuing permits and enforcing environment laws have not revealed very much information,” Henderson says.
“Fault Lines” spoke to Miyoko Sakashita of the Center for Biological Diversity, which is suing federal regulators over allegations that fracking is being approved without a full review of the risks. “We’re talking about fracking that is basically along the entire Louisiana coast,” said Sakashita. “It’s in shallow water, near communities…Some of the fracking was actually permitted in the Mississippi Canyon, where the Deepwater Horizon accident was." “Fault Lines” obtained a list of around 100 sites approved for fracking in 2013, including 11 offshore sites for Chevron.
With sea levels set to rise more and more in the coming decades, Louisiana’s coastline will continue to disappear. As the state continues to depend on the oil and gas industry, it is also faced with an environmental disaster many say is being fueled by that same industry.
Fault Lines' “The Disappearing Delta” premieres on Al Jazeera America on Monday, February 16th at 9 p.m. Eastern time/6 p.m. Pacific. It will air again at 12am and 4am, and Saturday February 21st at 7pm ET/4pm PT and 10pm ET/7pm PT.