Volume 12 - February 9, 2004
Sunset behind oil rigs off the coast of Louisiana.

Louisiana's Black Gold

An oil rig offshore of Louisiana.

Twinkling off the shores of south Louisiana thousands of “mini-constellations” are in view. This evening scene changes with the dawn to what seems to be hundreds of lone skyscrapers against the vast horizon. What I am seeing is really off-shore oil rigs. These rigs drill for the black gold (petroleum) and natural gas that Louisiana supplies to our energy gobbling country! Petroleum is a very valuable non-renewable natural resource.

Petroleum is simply referred to as oil. It is used to make fuel, heat and electricity, engine grease ,make-up, aspirins, carpet, curtains, detergent, plastics, ink, paint, toothpaste, the list goes on and on! Can you see why it is so valuable?  As people use more and more petroleum each year and the world is running out! I would suggest that you research and see how pockets of oil and gas are formed. It dates back before the Mesozoic Era and is very interesting. Geologist have theories about how these substances were formed.


Drilling in the marshes and off the coast of Louisiana has had a huge impact on our state for many years. Louisiana is mineral rich. Petroleum, natural gas, salt, and sulfur are among some of our underground treasures. Hernando Desoto’s 1540 expedition down the Mississippi River noted gooey black stuff seeping out of the marshlands and used it to caulk their boats for water tightness. Imagine trying to clean your hands after that job! Modern explorers know the value of this “black gold” and many people have made their fortunes or worked their whole lives in the industry of oil and gas.


Much of Louisiana’s oil and gas is dwindling. However, offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is big business. Many people work in the Gulf on cities made of steel called rigs. These folks wear hard hats and drill up the substances that heat our homes and keep our cars running. CC, Annie, and I watch a constant flow of crew boats and supply boats travel back and forth to and from these rigs daily. Supplying  the oil industry is the business of many south Louisiana folks. We visited a place called Port Fourchon. It is near Grand Isle, find it on a Louisiana Map. It reminded me of a futuristic colony. Fourchon is the supply center for most of the Gulf of Mexico oil rigs. Growling helicopters, crew boats, supply boats, barges, and tugs chug in and out of this busy port. Giant warehouses on the water service the boats and equipment needed offshore. The once quiet marsh roars with activity 24 hours a day.  It is truly a place to see as we all take the ease of filling up our cars for granted.


I am writing to you about the oil industry because so much of what we are seeing on this part of our journey is related to the drilling, manpower, or servicing of this business. There are over three thousand petroleum structures in the northern Gulf of Mexico. These rigs actually form artificial reef habitats that benefit fishermen, divers, and reef-dwelling creatures. Annie will tell you more about the “reef” creatures in her story.


Most of the offshore rigs are run carefully and high standards are observed assuring us that the deep blue is damaged little. The industry that services offshore rigs and the miles of pipeline needed to move and store the oil and natural gas has created some of our coastal wetland’s problems in the past.  Along Louisiana’s coast shrimp and oyster villages of fifty years ago have become oil towns. Canals dredged for navigation and petroleum development cause changes in our marshes. The health and well being of the marsh that was once neglected is now being watched. We still have to clean up old messes and try to repair damaged marshlands. Stewardship of the land is more important than the value of oil and gas. Everybody must work harder to find the harmony between our human needs and the needs of our coastal environment. Our Earth with all its hidden, useful riches is certainly a non-renewable place.

Into the Gulf

CC's favorite fish, the freckled blenny (Hypsoblennius ionthas) peeking out from his barnacle home.

I love to snorkel. Diving deep is not my thing however, CC is a diver from way back! When Sue decided to tell you a little about the offshore oil rigs we have been seeing, I thought of all the tails( I mean tales) CC has told me from his Rig Diving days!


Louisiana’s offshore oil and gas industry began in 1947 when the first well was drilled out of sight of land. Today over 4,500 offshore oil and gas platforms are in the Gulf. These structures make great fishing and diving destinations. CC has made hundreds of rig dives and he says you cannot believe how clear the deep Gulf waters can get. On the other hand , sometimes he cannot see his hand in front of his face! He describes sinking and having the feeling that he is in a cathedral with the massive barnacle and coral coated platform surrounding him. Depending on tides and currents, water colors range from eerie green to crystal blue to mucky brown.


CC has an underwater camera and I love to look at his Louisiana rig diving slides. In one story he tells of drifting down and encountering six barracuda who check him out. Sinking to twenty feet he is caught in a passing crowd of five hundred, pancake flat, silvery, lookdown fish!


Drifting deeper CC says he finds himself surrounded by huge amberjack fish who circle him like a wagon train! He says the biggest one was a fifty-pounder and I believe him because he took a picture!


Spiny lobsters, queen angelfish, spotfin butterfly fish, chromis, squirrelfish and even a purple and gold damsel fish (the LSU fish) swim around in the pilings where CC almost forgets he is under an oil rig.


 His favorite is the tiny freckled blenny that is one inch long and lives in a dead barnacle! The biggest fish he saw on this dive were three monster jewfish, or “big groupers.” They reminded CC of Volkswagens! As CC tells it, “ A couple of two-hundred pounders were next to a big grouper longer than I am and weighing at least six-hundred pounds. It could have swallowed me but I took my chances and swam up to pet him. This one did not like my company and turned to swim away. The force from his tail’s swish pushed me back four feet and knocked my mask up on my forehead!” By the way, CC says all big jewfish and groupers are males; the females turn into males when they reach a certain size!!!! Just imagine that!


CC has many tales to tell of sharks, sea turtles, manta rays, tarpons, and other spectacular sea creatures that travel our Louisiana Gulf waters. I love listening to CC’s underwater adventures, but you will not catch me below an oil rig any time soon! That’s all for now.


Your teller of “tails”…………Annie the M.U.T.T. of the marsh.

- Petroleum and natural gas are important non-renewable resources found in Louisiana and off its coastal shores.
- Our wetlands have been damaged by canals dredged and other activities of the oil and gas industry, yet many Louisiana citizens past and present make their living in this business that is very important in our modern world.
Find the meanings of cool words like tributary, sediment, or amphibian and many more...
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1. There is a lot of life under an oil rig’s artificial habitat. Pretend you are sinking, sinking, gently down. Write a “creative” journal entry about the Gulf sea creatures that you encounter. Have fun! A picture to go with your adventure would be a great addition!
Click here to find sources of more great information!
la·gniappe    (ln-yp, lnyp)
2. An extra or unexpected gift or benefit

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Audubon Elementary asks:
Studies predict that by 2050 over 500 more square miles of Louisiana will disappear.  Is this a realistic projection?
CC answers:  If we don't start doing more now to protect what we ahve that is a very realistic projection.  If youa dd in a few major hurricanes, it could be more.
St. Mary's Nativity School asks:
Could you tell us more about mangrove trees?
CC answers:  The United States has three species of mangroves:  the black, the red, and the white.  We just saw many small black mangroves in Grand Isle and in Fourchon.  They were 4 foot tall at the most.  I ahve seen mangroves in Mexico 40 feet tall.  They are tropical and need warm weather.  We will do an article on mangroves later in the year.
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