In case there was any question of the amount to which oil and the oil industry are an entrenched part of Louisiana's culture, the 75th annual Shrimp and Petroleum Festival scheduled for September in Morgan City, Louisiana and sponsored by the Louisiana Department of Tourism should serve to make things clear. Says the festival's website in copy now groaning under the weight of its own irony, "This is an event that proves that oil and water really do mix." Indeed.
Louisiana is responsible for 25% of the U.S. domestic oil production and approximately 60,000 of it's 4.5 million post-Katrina population are employed by the oil and natural gas industries in some capacity. Additionally, revenue from these industries makes up 14% of the state's budget. With numbers like these it is no surprise that a majority of Pelican State voters (77% according to Public Policy Polling) favor keeping oil and oil drilling a part of the state's economy despite BP's current cataclysm.
When asked about the Shrimp and Petroleum Festival's future in the face of a Gulf swimming in oil, Lee Delaune, Shrimp and Petroleum Festival's Managing Executive Director, said without hesitation that as far as this year's festival is concerned "All systems are go." As for a name change, Delaune replied, laconically, "Nope. That won't happen." Like many in Louisiana, Delaune is dedicated to celebrating these two industries.
While anger at BP is abundant, other Louisiana residents echo Delaune's reluctance to ditch their support for oil. Louisiana's lawmakers such as Governer Bobby Jindal and Representative David Vitter rant and rail against the horrors visited on the state by the BP catastrophe, while simultaneously putting pressure on President Obama to lift the moratorium on off-shore drilling as soon as possible. It seems that some in the state are eager to put this crisis behind them only to return to business as usual.
But is this realistic? Estimates of the amount of time it will take for clean-up to be completed range from months to years, and many say that the Gulf will never fully recover. Add to this the fact that prior to the spill many Gulf shrimpers were already hurting in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita as well as feeling the sting of competition from cheap shrimp being imported from places like Vietnam and Thailand. The New York Daily News quotes Juanita Cheramie, owner of Camardelle's Seafood (which she is being forced to close) talking about BP's mess; "Down here, we know how to deal with Mother Nature. But how do you deal with pure evil? That's what I want to know."
Still, like Louisiana's support for offshore drilling, Shrimp and Petroleum Festival organizers seem undeterred. However, given that the two headliners of the festival (shrimp and petroleum) are currently engaged in mortal combat, wouldn't it make sense to re-imagine what is being celebrated here? Would fewer people really flock to Morgan City for the "Louisiana Shrimp Festival?" I tend to doubt it, as "Shrimp Festivals" seem to do fair business in many other venues.
Like many places in the U.S. Louisiana is deeply committed to its traditions. However, when the old way of doing some things threatens the ability to sustain other traditions (marshland exploration and fishing to name two), perhaps it is time to innovate. As it is for the rest of the country, so is it time for Louisiana to eschew the things that threaten their way of life and re-imagine what that way of life should look like.
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