The Oil Industry Loves Louisiana


By Rie Ma, Social Entrepreneurship VISTA

The oil industry loves Louisiana… really.

During recent strategic planning conversations at the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, discussion turned to the question of why the fenceline communities are all but invisible. To clarify, fenceline communities are those neighbors who live closest to the oil refineries in our region, often able to look out of their windows into the refineries themselves – literally separated by only a chain link fence. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s mission is to support these communities’ use of grassroots action to free themselves from the negative health and economic consequences of their proximity to poison, a tactic which has been effective for communities all over the country in response to a wide array of problems.

So what is the problem here? For some reason, these communities who suffer the most at the hands of the oil industry in the form of regular exposure to harmful chemicals (including known carcinogens) are extra ordinarily disconnected from each other and unaware of (or actively misinformed about) their risks – despite the fact that these neighborhoods are legion, spread up and down Cancer Alley.

As we explored possible barriers, an ugly echo came through our conversation: fenceline communities are in an abusive relationship with the oil industry. All of a sudden, we were wondering how we could not have noticed earlier the way the industry isolates its neighbors, community from community and resident from resident, by addressing any issues as an individual’s problems, not something for the community or region to answer holistically. Why didn’t we recognize the communities’ numbness to the damage they undergo?  How did we miss understanding the way the industry limits communities’ mobility and economy, effectively controlling their behavior? Did we really not make the connection to the fact that the oil industry literally sees fenceline neighbors as “property?”

The oil industry is very good at showing the friends and family of these communities what they want to see: a new park, job creation (albeit dangerous ones), and a mutually beneficial relationship. But as with many abusive relationships, what the public sees and what happens the rest of the time are two very different things. We know that the oil industry averages a refinery accident a day, and we know that the communities who live near them experience regular health issues as a result. We know our region has more cases of cancer and more deaths from cancer proportionately than the rest of the country. But when the cameras come out, we just see the industry telling us about the new music festival they are sponsoring, their arm possessively gripping the Mississippi while Louisiana smiles and pretends everything is all right.


I apologize if any victims of personal abuse take offense at my language, but I find these parallels too glaring to go unremarked.

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2 Responses to The Oil Industry Loves Louisiana

  1. anonymous says:

    the apology is owed to the very people yet again exploited in the article

  2. Laura Cox says:

    While the denial of the communities mind as a whole on the outskirts of the fenceline may be likened to an abusive relationship the immediate fenceline community sees and hears much more of the chemical plants health affects.
    For the fenceline community, there is little support set up for relocation of the citizens who’s families lived for generations on this once pristine land. The chemical manufacturers moved in and have since refused to abide by the law; the results being the citizens getting gassed day and night for miles.
    The mothers are well aware of their children being on breathing machines and asthma meds and half of the elderly are on dialysis. They notice because they have to go to doctors they can’t afford.
    This is more likened to environmental terrorism as our government allows multinational corporations to expand factories and do not regulate the toxins; the burden then falls onto communities and nonprofit organizations, for what I term, the “Frontline effort” where there is little or no help from any form of government entity nor a response from said industry. The war is difficult and there are ALOT of exposures daily to the community and the people who come in to help organize.
    The schools are inside the kill zones and there are railroad tankers full of volatile chemicals in unfenced areas in neighborhoods. It is prevelant throughout the world and never ceases to amaze me how much danger these people, (usually the poorest of the community), are subjected to on a daily basis. There is suffering and death that goes unabated.
    The horrors are truly deeper than can be imagined. When all people say NO MORE is when these multinational corporations will faulter. I beleive that if we change the way we look at goods and services combined with our own knowledge for renewable energies we can defeat the goliath we helped to create. It is happening now in other countries when America should be the leader in this field of prosperity with No Harm.
    Thanks to the people at the Louisiana Bucket Brigades continued ingenuity and GCM for building a broad based net of community organizing. Through scientific proof this unity and understanding can take place.
    Environmental Justice for All. In solidarity.

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