Anyone who understands the forces that have conspired to push a Gulf of Mexico oil bust past its third year knows the issues are more complex than it might seem on the surface.
Global supply and demand have the biggest influence on oil prices, which remain at less than half their 2014 peak. But many people and issues have an impact on crude prices and, by extension, the job picture in Houma-Thibodaux's oil-based economy. They include things like technological advances, decisions by OPEC and oil-rich nations outside the cartel, political unrest in one part of the world or another, Wall Street speculation.
Government regulation, another important influence, has attracted a lot of attention from Gulf oil interests and, by extension, local residents. Conventional wisdom has been that the Obama administration was too heavy-handed with environmental, taxation and other regulations that impact Gulf oil production and exploration.
Those who fall into that camp have reason for optimism from the administration of President Donald Trump, who campaigned on a pledge to push the U.S. toward energy dominance.
On Saturday, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reiterated that pledge during a visit to Thibodaux, accompanied by U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy and Congressman Garrett Graves.
Zinke, whose stops in Louisiana included a look at oil facilities as well as the state's eroding coastal marshes, noted the national importance of oil and gas production but said he wants to make sure it’s done correctly.
“It’s a working coast. Right now it seems to be a disappearing coast,” he said. “But there’s the fishing industry here, there’s the shipping industry, there’s the sugar-cane industry, there’s the refining industry. A lot of it rests upon revenue from offshore, but not all of it. We’re here to make sure we take everything into consideration and be a partner rather than an adversary."
His words struck an appropriate balance between the environment and an industry that impacts it. BP's 2010 oil spill in the Gulf, and the years long debate over damage the industry caused to wetlands locally and across the Louisiana coast highlight what can go wrong.
Yes, we all want the local economy to turn around, and we know that hinges on the oil industry's vibrancy. But we also want to know, as Zinke suggests, that regulations will not only encourage drilling and jobs but that it will be done in a way that protects the environment and the people who live and work within it.
The oil bust and Louisiana's long-running coastal erosion crisis are tough problems to solve. And it won't happen overnight. But Zinke's words during his visit last weekend offer some assurance that he understands the delicate balance between industry and environment, especially in this part of the world. And residents have to be heartened to hear someone at the highest levels of government pledge to be a "partner rather than an adversary."
-- Editorials represent the opinion of this newspaper and not any single individual.