Gulf Spill 'Solution' Worse than the Problem?

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For many families who live and work along the oil littered Gulf of Mexico, the federal government's ban on deepwater oil drilling is worse than the oil spill and its aftermath.

The Obama administration wants the ban to remain in place until after Thanksgiving, but many companies aren't expected to wait that long.

The Lifeline of the Gulf

Although wildlife is being poisoned and people who live along the Gulf Coast are having a hard time living with the oil spill, many say they can't survive without the oil industry.

"We're just in a bad situation now. We're going around and around and there's no way out," said Stanley Encalade, who has spent his entire life fishing the marshy waters along the Gulf Coast.

Despite all the talk surrounding the devastated fishing industry, it only accounts for 1 percent of Louisiana's economy. Tourism makes up 4 percent, and the oil industry accounts for a whopping 16 percent.

You don't have to go farther than the beach to see the impact of the spill. From some points, the naked eye can count more than a dozen oil platforms in the ocean.

"If you go out there at night in a plane it looks like Manhattan - all these rigs are lit up, it's just, you know, amazing to see," New Orleans Sierra Club Field Organizer Darryl Malek-Wiley said.

Oil pipelines cut through the wetlands and crisscross highways. Nearly 5 million barrels of oil are produced in the United States each day. A quarter of that crude comes from deepwater rigs in the Gulf and most of the supplies and support for those rigs pass through Port Fourchon in Lafourche Parish, La.

Parish spokesman Brennan Matherne said, "Basically Lafourche Parish has about 18 percent of the oil that America uses."

Each deepwater platform employs about 250 people and for each of those employees experts say there are another six to eight workers supporting them. The Louisiana Oil and Gas Association has estimated the federal moratorium may disrupt as many as 100,000 jobs across the Gulf region.

Plug the Leak - Not the Industry

"Nobody in their right mind would hold off operations waiting on the actions of a government that they know, frankly, doesn't care for their business," said Ben Broussard, LOGA marketing director.

Royalties from off shore oil and gas productions serve as the second highest source of income for the federal government, second only to the income tax.

Broussard said that as soon as the Obama administration issued its first moratorium on deepwater drilling, other countries started courting rig operators and the operators started planning their moves.

"These deep water rigs are signed up on contracts on three to six years at a time," explained Eric Smith, associate director of Tulane University's Energy Institute. "They cost on the order of $600 million apiece and if they're not working, they're not paying their mortgage."

Smith and other industry experts say that BP's bad business decisions doesn't represent the entire industry.

"It was the careless and reckless operation of one operator," Broussard said. "There were 656 deep water wells drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and 551 of those are producing and before April 20th, (we had) zero disasters, zero major accidents."

"The real issue is human beings," Smith said. "How do you change the corporate culture - in this case, of one company - to make sure that they do play by the rules."

Gulf Resident: 'I Want My Life Back'

Just minutes from Port Fourchon, visitors to one of Louisiana's most popular coastal destinations are greeted by the message: "Jesus Christ Reigns Over Grand Isle."

At this time of year, the island is usually bustling with tourists. Now there are only homemade signs telling the regions dismal tale: "Diminished Property Values," I want my life back." One resident has even transformed his yard into a cemetery to mark the death of the region's way of life.

Down the road, Shelly Landry operates the Sureway Supermarket that her father opened more than 30 years ago.

The store has survived every storm, every hurricane. But Landry isn't sure about this double whammy.

"Right now with the oil spill you don't have the tourism. With this moratorium they've killed the oil fields," she said.

Meanwhile, emotions are high and environmentalists are mobilizing to push for clean energy.

The Sierra Club has partnered with progressive Christian groups to help spread the message.

"If you care about our country's foreign policy, if you care about the environment, if you care about the health of our economy, or if you care about human rights then you care about the cost of our oil dependence," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said.

However, an energy transformation will happen slowly and until then, many Gulf Coast residents and business owners want the oil drills to keep pumping.

Taking it One Day at a Time

Back in Lafourche Parish, resident Brennan Matherne believes it will take a rise in gasoline prices to convince the country that oil production in the Gulf of Mexico must be continued.

"Until the rest of Americans start feeling it at the pump, I think they won't truly realize how much this port and how much Gulf oil production really means to them individually," he said.

In the meantime, the Gulf's residents like Shelly Landry are simply doing the only thing they can do.

"We're taking it day by day, week by week," Landry said. "My daddy taught me to save for rainy days. I just wish it wouldn't be pouring as much as it is."

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Jennifer Wishon

Jennifer Wishon

CBN News White House Correspondent

Jennifer Wishon is the White House correspondent for CBN News based in the network’s Washington, D.C. Bureau.  Before taking over the White House beat, Jennifer covered Capitol Hill and other national news, from the economy to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferWishon and "like" her at Facebook.com/JennWishon.