Watch police clash with protesters in this original video. –
By Glynn Wilson –
NEW ORLEANS, La. — About 200 environmental activists from across the county marched from City Hall to the Super Dome here Wednesday and crashed an oil lease sale meeting trying to open up another 43 million acres to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
The protesters marched right up into the Super Dome, took over the hall and chanted slogans from 9 a.m. when the meeting was supposed to start until nearly 11, when the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement gave up and removed its podium and even the flags, and left the building.
The agency conducting the bids, which was not particularly productive due to the low price of oil, is President Obama’s new federal department that replaced the corrupt Minerals Management Service under President Bush, where a lack of regulation was ruled partly to blame for the BP Gulf oil blowout and disaster in 2010.
Federal officials tried their best to read out the winning bids over the chanting protesters, but it was no use. The protesters even held signs in front of their faces as they tried to read out the bids, making it impossible for official business media there to cover it from the back of the room to get video or audio.
On the way into the stadium, a few oil industry suits made jokes about the protesters. One was overhead saying, in jest, “What’s this? A Bernie Sanders rally?”
Others made comments and asked questions about how the activists got to the meeting.
“Did they not drive cars?” As if to say oil is an essential ingredient in the economy.
But the activists chanted on, and by the end, no one was laughing. Some called it the most effective protest of its kind they had ever seen. At one point New Orleans police clashed with protesters, trying to push them off the stage. But the NOPD gave up and failed to get rid of the protesters, not making a single arrest. Some police officers even threw up their hands, laughed, and joined the crowd of people shooting video with their smart phones (see photos below).
Benjamin Waring, who owns an energy data consulting firm in New Orleans, stood at the back of the room speaking to a few activists, according the Newhouse Times-Picayune’s reporting at Nola.com.
He’s attended dozens of lease sales over the years, and said he had never seen anything like Wednesday’s demonstration, the news company’s blog reported.
“There have been protesters before, but it’s usually only 10 or 15 people,” he said.
Janice Schneider, assistant secretary for land and minerals management for the Interior Department, was diplomatic when asked about the protest.
“We respect everyone’s right to express themselves,” she said. “We are pleased we were able to proceed with the sale.”
While this was the ninth such oil lease offering under the Obama administration’s 2012-2017 drilling plan, the sale was the fourth lowest since 1983, attracting only $156 million in high bids, and no bids for a separate eastern Gulf sale also held Wednesday.
Schneider indicated oil companies are “proceeding cautiously” in the Gulf of Mexico thanks to low oil prices, plunging from highs near $100 a barrel in 2014 to about $40 now, still twice as high as the rate from the 1980s when the oil industry’s demise caused a recession in Louisiana.
Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and one of the organizers behind the march and protest, said fewer Gulf Coast residents support the oil economy since the BP disasters in the spring of 2010.
She applauded the Obama administration’s recent decision not to move forward with oil drilling off the Atlantic coast, and like others committed to stopping the oil industry’s environmental and economic devastation in the Gulf region, she hopes that decision might lead to a way to phase out drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
“We’re in a transitional moment,” Rolfes said. “We need to capitalize on this moment.”
At the rally in Duncan Plaza in advance of the march and protest, activist and mother Cherri Foytlin, one of the leaders of the action, pointed out that Louisiana is still losing a football field-sized chunk of land every hour due to the damage caused to coastal wetlands primarily by the oil industry, compounded by rising sea levels due to climate change thanks to global warming from the burning of fossil fuels.
“That leaves us more vulnerable to hurricanes. It takes us closer to the hurricanes,” she said. “Rising seas are taking land as we speak.”
She said there may be counter protesters along the way who push job creation.
“They are saying we need to put food on the table and they are absolutely right,” she said. “We do. I’m not denying that at all.
“But look, if it was about job creation we have 27,000 abandoned oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico. Yet we have oil workers who are out of work, drawing food stamps and Medicaid,” she said. “We need to get them out there cleaning up the mess that by law, those oil companies are supposed to be taking care of that. If it was about job creation there’s plenty out there to do. But they are not being allowed to do that because the oil companies are not being made to be responsible.”
She said if the 43 million acres does get drilled, there’s another 47 million up for grabs next year.
“I don’t know if anybody can wrap their head around that. That’s the entire state of Louisiana plus half the state of Mississippi,” she said. “When that oil comes out of the ground, it goes to our refinery communities that are mostly communities of color who unjustly bear the burdon of energy extraction already. It’s going into the air, the lungs of young people, and it’s going to continue to make our people sick.”
© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.