LA oil & gas industry, environmentalists react to Trump's offshore drilling plan

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The oil and gas industry remains a huge part of Louisiana's economic equation. But it has seen better days.

"Oil and gas has been in a depression, not a slow-down, not a recession, a depression," said U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana.

Last week President Donald Trump's administration announced a plan to vastly expand offshore drilling from the Atlantic to Arctic oceans, a move welcome by the oil and gas industry.

"He's said, look, we're going to open up the entire Eastern Outer-Continental Shelf in the Atlantic, the entire Outer-Continental Shelf in the Pacific, the entire Gulf of Mexico and all of the seas around Alaska to oil and gas drilling," said Kennedy.

The five-year plan would open 90 percent of the nation's offshore reserves to development.

An industry group believes Louisiana oil and gas industry workers will benefit even from activity far away from the bayou state because of their deep knowledge of the industry.

"That work, when it happens, they will pretty much be Louisiana-trained people," said Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, also known as LOGA.

But environmentalists blast the Trump Administration's move.

"Many fishermen tell me that things are not back to normal, that there is still an impact," said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network.

She said Louisiana is still recovering from the BP disaster and now the White House wants to open up more risky areas.

"You're opening all these areas to oil and gas development on the argument that it's safe and that you're not going to pollute anybody, despite the fact that you're continuing to pollute the people of the Gulf of Mexico," said Sarthou.

The drilling expansion plan comes mere days after the Trump administration proposed rewriting or killing regulations placed on the industry after the BP oil rig blast and spill off of Louisiana's coastline.

"You are rolling back what little safety increases there have been, so you know, the concern is you're going to end up having another BP disaster in an area that has not yet been despoiled and you're going to have impacts like you've had on the Gulf of Mexico," Sarthou said in response.

And she does not believe Louisiana's economy will benefit from the exploration planned along the coasts of distant states.

"I think that our economy is not going to be strengthened by this move but I think that the economy of Florida may be threatened by this move," said Sarthou.

Others disagree.

"When it comes to offshore you can't beat Louisiana trained people," Briggs stated.

Briggs also said lawsuits by some coastal parishes against the industry have had a chilling effect on shallow water exploration.

"No one wants to drill on Louisiana's coast anymore because of those lawsuits, now deep-water that's different," said Briggs.

Copyright 2018 WVUE. All rights reserved.