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Offshore drilling opponents take chants into federal meeting

By:  Janet Mcconnaughey, Associated Press on Chron.com

 

KENNER, La. (AP) — About 50 opponents of continued oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico rallied on a suburban New Orleans sidewalk Monday, then brought their chants into a federal open house about potential impacts of continuing the lease program for five more years.

“Today we are here to ask President Obama to keep it in the ground,” Jennifer Crosslin of the Steps Coalition in Biloxi, Mississippi, told the small crowd on the sidewalk in front of a suburban hotel. Kenner police officers and city barricades kept them from straying onto the hotel’s lawn; four more officers stood in a line at the front of the hotel lobby.

Then they headed inside and formed a circle at the center of a meeting room where the federal agency in charge of oil and gas leases had set up stations for its officials to talk with people. After a couple of short speeches, they chanted “The Gulf is not for sale!” and clapped in time.

The meeting came less than a month after about 150 protesters disrupted an oil lease sale, chanting and waving signs. Janice Schneider, assistant secretary of the Interior Department, said afterward that the protest didn’t hold up the sale and everyone had the right to express themselves.

Supporters of offshore drilling were there, too.

Carroll Angelle, owner of Premier Offshore Catering Inc., said he’d come in response to an email asking him to attend. Premier had 160 employees in October and now has 30, he said.

“I have people that’s out of jobs, out of work,” he said, “They’re (demonstrators) going to come here and protest and say it’s our fault?”

Stricter rules aren’t the answer, he said: “The government has so many regulations right now it’s pathetic.”

Anne Rolfes of The Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a New Orleans-based environmental nonprofit, told Monday’s group they couldn’t display the signs or banners in the hotel. Inside, she encouraged them to stay in large groups, asking questions loudly so all could hear, then repeating any quiet answers just as loudly.

However, they quickly drifted into generally quiet conversations with the officials and others.

At one point, New Orleanians Jayeesha Dutta of the Gulf Future Coalition and Ann-Meredith Wooten of the Radical Arts and Healing Collective were talking with Bill Brown, chief environmental officer for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

“I think taking a harder look at renewable energy for the Gulf is a good idea,” Brown told them.

Dutta said the administration, which has barred drilling off the Atlantic coast because of opposition there, should do the same for the Gulf of Mexico.

“We are just as riled up as they are,” she said.

Brown encouraged her to say so in writing.

Some drilling supporters said the offshore oil work is needed to support the economy and energy needs of the Gulf Coast and the entire nation.

Brent Greenfield of the Consumer Energy Alliance says he represents 400,000 people including truckers, farmers and others who need reliable and affordable energy. The United States will rely on oil and gas for decades to come, and the Gulf provides 20 percent of the nation’s crude oil supply, he said before the meeting.

The federal government has received $80 billion from lease sales and royalties over the past decade, and all taxpayers would lose if that money were to end, said Lori LeBlanc, head of a group representing Gulf energy workers.

Agency spokesman John Filostrat said a similar meeting last year drew only a few people. “Last year, we had about 20 people over a four-hour meeting. So this is great,” he said.