Last year, GRN and Atchafalaya Basinkeeper commented on an application for coastal restoration that consisted of four dams. How would blocking bayous help coastal marshes?
SM Energy claims that four bayous connecting public Julian Bayou to the Atchafalaya Delta WMA were causing erosion. The solution? Four dams on the offending bayous would abate the erosional forces of Atchafalaya Bay, and save the marsh. In fact, these bayous were feeding local marshes with healthful sediment, causing an increase in wetlands! A quick review of aerial photography shows that marsh has been growing in this area. This is one of the few areas in coastal Louisiana where we aren't losing land.
2013 Color-Infrared aerial of the area, with annotations for the bayous that connect the public waters. Each black oval is a dam site. Bayous on private land are in blue. Note that the application claims that this area is deteriorating.
We commented that the application was false. Damming coastal streams that feed marshes with sediment will actually harm the wetlands the company was claiming to save.
Why would this company apply to block bayous on false premises? Many landowners in the basin seek to block bayous and public waters to keep fishers out of the wetlands they consider theirs alone. Despite the fact that the wetlands are a commons, an engine of life, these land claimants would stop that commerce and those traditions. Several groups have formed recently to push back against this initiative.
We never got our day in court. SM Energy gave no reply to our evidence. The Corps and Louisiana Department of Natural Resources has issued them a permit on false premises.
A closer look at the record has revealed other false applications in the same area of Atchafalaya Delta WMA. In 1997, ORYX Energy applied for a different coastal restoration permit--a crevasse! It was needed to feed the local marshes with sediment. See below for for the shape of the crevasse in 2004-it looks exactly like an oil-and-gas keyhole canal.
This applicant sought to dredge a 'crevasse' to sustain local marshes. At least in this case, the oil company lied using the correct ecology--and the opposite ecological premise of SM Energy. But this 'crevasse' is suspiciously shaped like an oil access canal. The familiar keyhole shape allowed the drilling of oil wells less than a year after LDNR issued the coastal permit.
Atchafalaya Delta WMA in blue; Julian Bayou in Beige. Energy companies have manipulated the permitted process in this area, relying on compliant, unquestioning government agencies.
The Corps and LDNR have issued a permit to block active bayous on the opposite premise, years later. How can such permits be enforced, when they are issued on false premises? The proper role for the agencies should have been to request more information about these phony applications. What if the oil well dug into the 'crevasse' had leaked? An oil canal has a fundamentally different purpose than a crevasse for coastal restoration.
The gentle tides of the Gulf of Mexico give the Gulf states the majority of the nation's wetlands. Too bad the Gulf states have the most disrespect for wetlands of any states in the nation. We have seen many biological falsehoods in oil industry documents --including BP's Gulf Walrus. The lies put forward in these applications make us blush. We are saddened to see such little care taken for the land that feeds and shelters us. Without watchdogs like Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, our land is vulnerable to dishonest companies and weakened government agencies.
Scott Eustis is GRN's Coastal Wetland Specialist