Last week’s Rally for Economic Survival in Lafayette, Louisiana, went largely unnoticed outside the state, though 11,000 vociferous oil workers, their supporters and the elected political elite of the state showed up and shouted to the rooftop about their concerns over the continuing moratorium on deepwater oil drilling.
The Cajundome on the University of Louisiana campus was packed with those who say the greatest crime created yet by the BP mess is the federal moratorium, which opponents say has already cost thousands of jobs and taken tens of millions of dollars out of the local economy.
The overarching sentiment at the event, sponsored by the state’s gas and oil lobbying group, was that, yes, the environmental mess may be bad… but the economic hit to the oil industry caused by the moratorium is far worse. The first 3,000 attendees got free T-shirts, others wore their own, emblazoned with oil company logos and slogans like “Drill Baby Drill” and “No Moratorium.”
Twin themes emerged as more than a dozen politicians took to the stage. “You’re playing politics with our livelihood!” and “The moratorium is an attack on a way of life!” were the rallying cries, messages that were rowdily applauded here in the heart of Lafayette Parish, where 40 percent of the jobs are tied to oil and gas production.
A majority in the crowd—many angry and frightened about the future, many unemployed—blame President Obama. Whenever his name came up, it was followed by a chorus of boos (not too surprising in a state where John McCain captured 60 percent of the vote).
The folks at the Cajundome regard the BP accident as a fluke, a one-of-a-kind incident. Their most cited critique of the moratorium is that if an airplane falls out of the sky, the federal government doesn’t step in and shut down the entire airline industry.
One pastor was quoted saying simply: “The greatest risk to our economy is the moratorium. Our greatest obstacle to our recovery is man-made.”
It’s true that it’s not only the fishermen whose jobs are at great risk. With 33 deepwater rigs (and their $165 million in wages) frozen by the moratorium, the concerns of the Cajundome crowd were legitimate. Many of those frozen rigs and forsaken jobs have already moved on to other sites in Brazil, Africa and Venezuela.
In Louisiana, where one out of four jobs is tied to the oil industry—some 320,000 in all, creating $70 billion a year in business—BP has set up a $100 million fund for unemployed oil workers... and it may prove insufficient.
The three-hour rally was ready-made theater for local politicians, including Governor Bobby Jindal, who led cheers of “Lift the ban! Lift the ban! Lift the ban!” and joined in the Obama-bashing by saying, “Our people don’t want a BP check or an unemployment check. We want to go back to work.”
Outside the Cajundome, protesters supporting safer drilling, the environment, wildlife, and the fisheries were kept to the fringes, behind police tape. Instead, this was a day for the oil industry workers to have their complaints heard.