June 24, 2010

by Patricia Malek

When BP’s Deep Water Horizon rig exploded and began gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico two months ago, communities all along the gulf were forced to begin dealing with a new, sobering reality. Leslie Carey, a freshman French major, has witnessed the effects of this new reality this summer and is worried about the future of Galliano, her hometown along the Bayou Lafourche.

“Whether or not we have a hurricane, if they do not stop the oil very soon, we will lose our way of life,” Carey said. “It will get into the marshes, and we will not have seafood, which is one of our main industries besides the oil fields. Our culture will die.”

Carey did not go home for the summer because of the oil spill, but went home to help her older sister, Jennifer Galliano, with her five children. Carey said Jennifer’s husband was killed in February by a drunk driver just days before their fifth child and only son, Will, was born. She said she knows she is both needed and appreciated at home in Galliano, but said she does miss one thing about being at Tech, though.

“I miss my independence,” Carey said. “I am glad I am here, and there is no other place I would want to be at the moment, but I want my own time.”

One of five children herself, Carey said her childhood along the bayou was a good one.

“It was always fun,” Carey said. “I do know how to crab, and as for peeling the boiled seafood, I can do that of course. I have been doing that since I was little.”

Galliano is a small town split in half by the Bayou Lafourche and lying just north of Grand Isle, one of the first places where oil from the Deep Water Horizon rig began washing onto beaches. The banks of the bayou in Galliano are lined with fishing boats with colorful nets draping their masts, and the two main roads running parallel to both sides of the bayou are lined with seafood shacks with hand-painted wooden signs hanging outside advertising every type of seafood imaginable. From all appearances, fishing is both literally and figuratively at the center of life in Galliano.

Carey said numerous family members fish for either fun or profit. She said she never shrimps with nets because it is mostly the men in the family who do the shrimping, but said she goes fishing and crabbing.

“August is actually the best part of shrimp season, but since it is so hot, they would probably be doing really well right now, too,” Carey said. “I was looking forward all year to coming back during the summer and crabbing all summer.”

Carey said worrying about an oil spill was not something she would have ever expected to be doing a few months ago.

“I never worried about it,” Carey said. “There had been oil leaks,
but it was never something like this where the oil just flowed. A tanker would leak some oil, but they would just pump it out.”

The closing of much of the Gulf of Mexico to fishing, especially the area around nearby Grand Isle, is the reason Bayou Lafourche is lined with empty fishing boats and most of its seafood shacks are now closed, but oil has not been seen in Galliano. Carey said the threat of a hurricane has her especially worried because of the oil, though.

“I have not seen it in the bayou because the bayou flows southward,” Carey said. “If there was a hurricane, though, we would probably just be wiped out because if we were flooded with that oil, it would just kill everything.”

Carey said flood waters have come within two inches of the top of the levies surrounding Galliano during past hurricanes.

Despite the devastation caused by the recent BP oil spill and the additional worries the spill has added to the hurricane season, oil is still the economic center of Galliano.

In this town of approximately 8,000 people, the largest employer is Edison Chouest Offshore, an oil service company and shipbuilder with a workforce greater than the population of the town. This fairly large international company’s main headquarters are in this small Gulf Coast town.

Edison Chouest Offshore is also one in a group of offshore service companies which filed a federal lawsuit June 9 challenging the legality of the six-month moratorium placed by the Interior Department on offshore drilling.

The companies contend that the ban is not based on facts and goes against federal law governing offshore lease development, while the Interior Department has said it is necessary until new safety standards are developed.

Carey, whose brother and brother-in-law both work in the oil industry, agreed with Edison Chouest and was opposed to the drilling moratorium.

“I do not agree with it, because so many jobs here revolve around the oil field,” Carey said. “If the drilling companies cannot drill here they are going to move off to the coast of Africa or somewhere else where they can get oil, and they will not come back in six months if they have gone and set up somewhere else.”

Like the community in which she lives, Carey appeared to be torn between her love of fishing and the realities of the economic impact of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

When asked if she will return to this part of the state upon graduation from Tech, Carey hesitated before answering.

“I am planning to, unless something happens to this area,” she said.
“I do not know if this area will be livable when I graduate.”