Oil, Fishing Industries Entwined In Mississippi River Delta The mammoth oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, sparked by the explosion and sinking of a deep-water oil rig, now surrounds the river delta, all but shutting down fisheries. But the oil industry still has many friends there. As Louisianans fight the crude invading their coast, many also want to repel efforts to limit offshore drilling.
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Oil, Fishing Industries Entwined In Miss. River Delta

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Oil, Fishing Industries Entwined In Miss. River Delta

Oil, Fishing Industries Entwined In Miss. River Delta

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

President Obama's administration is promising action on that catastrophic oil spill. The president's environmental adviser says the BP oil leak will be plugged. More on that in a moment.

INSKEEP: President Obama yesterday said the nation is too dependent on fossil fuels. But you dont realize just how dependent until you travel to the Mississippi River Delta. The fishing industry there is all but shut down. Yet some residents do not want to stop or slow offshore drilling despite the disaster.

NPR's Frank Morris visited Buras, Louisiana.

FRANK MORRIS: Devlin Roussell sports a thick stand of black stubble and aerodynamic shades, and like most charter boat captains on the Delta, he's just sitting on the dock lately. If he did have paying customers to take out fishing, he'd most likely take them to an oil rig.

Mr. DEVLIN ROUSSELL (Fisherman): The best fishing in the world is off the mouth of the Mississippi River because of the oil rigs. They're the greatest artificial reefs in the world.

MORRIS: The rigs support fish. High oil industry wages support many of the customers out trying to catch them. A day on Roussell's boat starts at $1,300.

Mr. ROUSSELL: We need the oil industry, and down here there are only two industries: fishing and oil.

MORRIS: And oil is a lot bigger.

(Soundbite of helicopters)

MORRIS: Large choppers pound the air over the Delta all day, every day, lugging oil workers to and from some 4,000 offshore wells and drilling rigs. Towering smoking refineries punctuate the flat green landscape.

Mr. ERIC SMITH (Tulane Energy Institute): They dwarf everything in terms of the impact of the economy.

MORRIS: Eric Smith at Tulane Energy Institute says oil generates $30 billion a year in Louisiana, 16 times more than fishing, he says. Roughly a third of the oil produced in the continental United States flows through Louisiana. Most of it's from deep water wells.

Mr. SMITH: Seventy percent is from deep water, which is why we're so upset about this moratorium.

MORRIS: President Obama has clamped a six month moratorium on new deep water drilling. He says a pause is necessary to guard against another crushing environmental catastrophe. But Peter Ricchiuti, who teaches finance at Tulane, says deep water oil is crucial.

Professor PETER RICCHIUTI (Tulane University): The last great oil province in the domestic United States is the deep water in the Gulf of Mexico. I mean youre not - you can make major gas finds, you can hit smaller oil fields, but the - what we call elephant fields, the last of them are in the Gulf of Mexico.

(Soundbite of gunshots)

MORRIS: Ricchiuti is standing in his fish can. It's basically a shack on stilts in a swamp near Pointe � la Hache. Someone's shooting nearby. Like many here, Ricchiuti is an avid sportsman and worried that oil spilled a mile below the surface will ruin this shallow marsh. But it's revenue from new deep water wells that will fund marsh restoration projects. And he says to stop drilling would hobble Louisiana's economy.

Prof. RICCHIUTI: Oh yeah, and it takes a big piece of the economic pie, also a big piece of the future economic pie away from us in here.

(Soundbite of water)

MORRIS: Down in Venice marina, Roland Hingle is cleaning his shrimp boat. He says that though the oil spill is wrecking his business, he's not inclined to ban drilling.

Mr. ROLAND HINGLE (Fisherman): Yeah. No. We need the oil to operate the boats. That's part of our industry. So I mean, just get the safety part down but dont stop drilling.

MORRIS: Little ways north on the Delta, at Empire, shrimp and oyster fisherman Kerry Despaux says his ties to the oil industry run deep.

Mr. KERRY DESPAUX (Fisherman): And my dad was one of the first drillers in the 1950s around here. He used to talk about those days all the time.

MORRIS: This kind of story is pretty common. Lots of families here have ties to boat fishing and oil. But the thinking about that relationship between those two industries may be changing.

Mr. DESPAUX: Well, we had a good relationship. I mean I guess we still do, you know? Its just - it's unfortunate what happened out there.

MORRIS: As sport fisherman Devlin Roussell says, Delta residents are torn. There's nothing simple about the feelings they have about the big money industry here: oil.

Frank Morris, NPR News.

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