Mary Tutwiler

Lifting the oil drilling ban on Lake Pontchartrain?

by Mary Tutwiler

Lake Pontchartrain has been closed to new oil and gas drilling for 17 years, since the State Mineral Board voted to protect the ecosystem of Louisiana’s largest water body. Now, the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, which lobbies for the oil and gas sector has contacted Mineral Board Secretary Marjorie McKeithen, indicating that they will make a proposal to the board to lift the ban. “Opening up Lake Pontchartrain for exploration and development would provide the state additional revenues, severance taxes and royalties,” Louisiana Oil and Gas Association president Don Briggs told the Times-Picaune. “It would have a definite economic benefit to the parishes in the area of development, especially at a time when the state is facing a budget shortfall.” However, environmental groups that pushed for the ban oppose opening the lake back up to industrial development. “We have a tremendous amount of people who have put a lot of work into bringing Lake Pontchartrain back, . . . and the last thing we need is something that would increase risk,” Carlton Dufrechou, executive director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, told the TP.  There is an estimated 38 million barrels of oil and 137 billion cubic feet of natural gas below the lake. If the Mineral Board does receive a formal request from LOGA, there will likely be public hearings before scheduling a vote to overturn the ban.