Mary Tutwiler

Drilling for oil on Rainey wildlife refuge in Vermilion Parish?

by Mary Tutwiler

Not since director Robert Flaherty, in his 1948 film Louisiana Story, depicted the coming of the oil and gas industry to the Louisiana swamp as an event of elemental beauty and Cajun prosperity has the oil rig looked so good to environmentalists. But the blinking Christmas tree lights of offshore rigs might just be the ticket to fill the depleted coffers of America’s most prominent green organization, the National Audubon Society, and repair the damaged wetlands of one of the oldest wildlife refuges in the country, the Paul J. Rainey Sanctuary in Vermilion Parish.

The 26,000-acre Rainey refuge sits on the western edge of Vermilion Bay. Acquired by Audubon in 1924, Rainey was the site of oil and gas production including canal dredging until the last lease expired in 1999, according to the Times-Picayune. In 2000, Audubon bid good riddance to energy exploration on Rainey's soil. However, exploration canals took their toll on the property. Saltwalter infiltration into the marshes that make up Rainey contributed to coastal land loss, and then Hurricane Rita heavily damaged the sanctuary. Audubon had to take a good long look at the costs of coastal restoration.

“It’s getting to the point where there is so much damage, and it just costs so much money to contain the damage,” G. Paul Kemp, director of Audubon’s Gulf Coast Initiative, told the T-P. “We know we’re fighting a losing battle.”

And so Audubon is now considering tapping the energy resources beneath Rainey in order to pay for restoration costs. This is the same National Audubon Society that has vehemently opposed drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, off the coast of Florida and California and in various wilderness locations across the nation.

Adversity makes strange bedfellows indeed. Read the entire story, from the Times-Picayune, here.