Just four days after pledging to reduce emissions and fossil fuel subsidies at the UN COP26 Climate Conference, on Nov. 17, the Biden administration set out to auction off over 80 million acres of land off the Louisiana coastline. This will be the largest federal offshore drilling auction in United States history.
This is yet another violation of the sovereignty of the Pointe-Au-Chien and Houma indigenous nations, who have been repeatedly denied their rights. The federal government has ignored the nations’ decades-long fights for federal recognition. Moreover, the tribes are still working to rebuild and recover after not receiving any government assistance following the devastation caused by Hurricane Ida in late August.
Despite rampant evidence that offshore drilling accelerates erosion of the Louisiana coastline and degradation of vital coastal ecosystems, the government gives billions of dollars in subsidies to the oil industry every year. The oil industry’s construction efforts, combined with stress on coastal land from the extraction process, increases rates of coastline sedimentation and harms wetland biodiversity. Spills and leakages pose an even more acute threat to coastal and marine wildlife. Corporations claim that pipeline leakages are uncommon, yet thousands of spills and leakages have occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in 2021.
Coastal wetlands are highly productive and biodiverse ecosystems which provide habitats to alligators, rodents, bobcats, coyotes, millions of local and migratory birds and several species of economically essential fish and shellfish. Healthy coastal salt marshes sequester carbon and promote nutrient cycling throughout the region, but they have begun to collapse due to oversaturation of nutrients from agricultural fertilizer runoff and other pollutants.
Coastal wetlands also provide a barrier for hurricanes by buffering impacts and redirecting floodwater, but as they are destroyed, Louisianans will be hit harder and harder by storms like Ida. Increased storms also means more spills due to oil infrastructure damage; Ida alone caused at least 350 oil spills.
The Indigenous, Cajun, and other coastal peoples who rely heavily on Louisiana’s ecosystems for their subsistence are disproportionately impacted by oil drilling due to their reliance on land and fishing for their food and incomes. Cajun and Vietnamese fishers in particular rely on wetland-dependent species like shrimp, crabs, crawfish, and oysters to support themselves, but as breeding grounds are destroyed, returns of these species decline.
Coastal wetland deterioration will cause the collapse of essential wetland trophic webs and the obsolescence of Louisiana fishing industry. It will threaten the way of life of the Cajun people, induce a mass migration of coastal residents, and leave inland populations susceptible to even more severe storm damage.
The record-breaking fossil-fuel extraction auction ultimately illuminates the hypocrisy of the Biden administration, and the performative nature of its climate policy. While making empty promises in Glasgow, the government continues to serve corporations, ignore science, and deny rights to indigenous peoples.
The U.S. should completely move away from drilling, as both oil drilling and the emissions from burning fossil fuels are environmentally detrimental. Instead of conceding to the oil industry, the federal government and the government of Louisiana must invest in renewable energy sources, return land sovereignty to indigenous nations, and compensate the millions of people who have already been harmed by its pro-corporate agenda.