Battle on the Bayou: The fight over fracking comes to south Louisiana
by Cassady Sharp
Authored byDr. Stephanie Houston Grey, Associate Professor at Louisiana State University To many Louisianans, St. Tammany Parish, on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain above New Orleans, is the ultimate home of the states Republican establishment, a suburban community of subdivisions and SUV ownerswho voted for John McCain, then Mitt Romney, and helped place Presidential hopeful Bobbie Jindal in the governorship. St. Tammany has also been friendly territory for the oil and gas industry, where companies led by Chevron established offices and headquarters after Katrina, lured out of New Orleans by the promise of a flood-free topology and welcoming populace. But this image has always been too simple to capture St. Tammany. Progressives, aging hippies, young hipsters and the socially mobile have also flocked to the areas laidback but cosmopolitan vibe and natural beauty. The environmentis at the heart of the Parishs identity, and has been both its economic engine and spiritual solace. New Orleanians long journeyed here to escape heat and disease and bathe in St. Tammanys legendary waters. Parish under frack attack [caption id="attachment_19723" align="alignright" width="300"] An example of fracked water in Pennsylvania.[/caption] When news broke of a fracking oil and gas extraction project proposed for St. Tammany earlier this year, residents were shocked. While Louisiana is a leader in oil and gas production, there hadnt been an operating well in St. Tammany for 30 years. Oil and gas, the old timers said, was far beneath the surface, at depths too great for the industry to bother with--until now. St. Tammany is at the edge of the geological formation known as the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale, an emerging oil and gas play that appears to be next in line for major production in the land-based drilling boom. While northwest Louisiana has seen the development of the Haynesville Shale, other parts of the country from the Northeast to the Mountain West have seen the sudden emergence of an extraction industry all around them. To St. Tammany residents, the idea that their Parish might be fracked sank in, residents fears focused on the Parishs aquifer. While the EPA defines as single source any aquifer providing at least 60 percent of the potable water to an area, the aquifer in St. Tammany is, literally, a single source. All of the Parishs water--100 percent of both city water and rural wellsis drawn from this aquifer. Further, the aquifer in St. Tammany is part of the Southern Hills aquifer system, stretching all the way from Jackson, Mississippi to Baton Rouge, Louisiana,which provides water to more than 1 million people. St. Tammany is also a place of marshes and wooded wetlands, home to six of the waterways in the states scenic rivers program, the most of any Parish. Among these are the Tchefuncte River, Cane Bayou, and the spectacular, nearly pristine, Pearl River along the Mississippi border, which traverse gorgeous and fecund wetlands. The Louisiana commonly imagined, replete with swamps, birds, alligators and fish, thrives still in St. Tammany. Residents fight back The threat of frack water and toxic chemicals from sources ranging from loss of containment on drill strings to stormwater runoff from open waste pondsimagine frack wastes scattered by a hurricane has stirred residents to a surprising and persistent resistance. Beginning with packed public meetings in historical towns, the opposition has included protests in front of drilling company offices and the drill sites land owner. Wilma Subra, achemist from Louisiana and McArthur Foundation Genius Award recipient, has presented to communities regarding the environmental and health impacts of oil and gas exploration. The community resistance has also held promotional events including bike rides and a free concert, Frackstock.