Volume 31 - October 5, 2004
An oil rig pumping crude oil from the ground through pipelines in coastal Louisiana.


Alligator and oyster shells on oilrig platform.

Almost one quarter of the oil used in the United States makes it way through Louisiana. What is this valuable substance, and why is it such a major player in the wetlands of Louisiana?


First, we are not talking about the oil that you use on salads and for frying! That stuff comes from seeds and fruits. We are talking about petroleum, which comes out of the ground. This greasy goo keeps cars, trucks, boats, and planes on the go!


Scientists say that petroleum originally formed from sea plants and animals that died millions of years ago. After these tiny creatures died, they sank to the bottom of the sea and were covered with mud. These itsy-bitsy animals and plants were squashed and mixed and then changed (over a very long time) into the goo we call oil. 


For the last 140 or so years we have been pumping oil from underground and eventually from under the sea by the billions of gallons! Most oil is trapped deep beneath rocks, so we drill wells down to the oil and pump it out.


There are thousands of oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico, and much of the petroleum or crude oil, as it is called when it first comes out of the ground, is piped through coastal Louisiana. Before things can be made out of crude oil, it must be brought to an oil refinery. Petroleum, or crude oil, is made up of chemicals called hydrocarbons. When the oil is heated in a refinery tower, the heavier hydrocarbons stay near the bottom, and the lighter ones rise toward the top. The heaviest one is used to make the gooey black substance that is used to hard surface roads with asphalt. Other heavy hydrocarbons can become grease and fuel for big ships. Lighter hydrocarbons are used to make heating oil, jet and diesel fuels, and gasoline. Hydrocarbons can be mixed with other chemicals to make detergents, plastics, fertilizers, and many other items that make our everyday lives easy!  


In America we use more oil per person than any other country! Oil runs our machines and fuels our big cars, trucks, and planes. But that is only the beginning. Oil is also used to create: colors in paints, markers, crayons, and clothes; the nylon of your backpack; the plastic in your toys and video tapes; and makeup, bike tires, toothbrushes, and toothpaste too! Wow, there are seemingly millions of products made from and with petroleum!


We all need oil, but we also need to cut down on our unquenchable thirst for this product. When oil supplies run out, that is that! That's why it is called a "nonrenewable" resource.


Coastal Louisiana has miles and miles of pipelines that carry the offshore oil and gas from the Gulf of Mexico to refineries. Canals have been cut all through the wetlands to carry this important material to the rest of our country. Our wetlands, whether we like it or not, are home to our nationfs critical energy infrastructure. Check out these statistics found on


-18 % of US oil and 24% of its natural gas production originates in, or is transported through, or is processed in the coastal wetlands of Louisiana.


-Over 20,000 miles of pipeline are located in federal offshore oil fields, and thousands more miles of pipeline are in Louisiana's inland coastal wetlands.


-Wetlands protect these pipelines and help ensure that they stay in place.


-When pipelines become exposed to waves and storms, they are a major threat to the  environment because of possible oil spills and gas leaks.


-Louisiana's oil and gas industries have a value of more than 16 billion dollars.

Odd Oysters

Oysters in clearwater marsh grass.

I'll say that oysters live a "dream life" because they get breakfast, lunch, and supper "in bed" every day! Snug in the mud or sand, and living in clusters with other oysters, it just waits for the tidal currents to serve its meals. Filtering up to 8 gallons of salt water per hour, the oyster finds food in the form of detritus. This is made up of tiny phytoplankton and nanoplankton floating in the water.


An oyster is a bivalve mollusk. It lives in a two-part shell, so we also call it a shellfish. The shell is connected at one end by a hinge, and it can close itself with a powerful adductor muscle. The dark spot on the inside of an empty oyster shell is the place to which the muscle adhered. To open a live oyster one must insert a knife blade and cut the muscle holding the oyster to its shell.


Oysters can snap their shells shut with lightening speed and super strength! Their shell is their only protection. At birth the spat (young oyster) is as big as the point of a needle! For about 2 weeks the young oyster floats and swims looking for a place to settle in for life. Rocks, shells, or other hard surfaces are the better places. Oysters are kind of like humans who like to live in neighborhoods. Large, crowded groups of the mollusk form areas known as beds in coastal regions. Young oysters grow quickly. A month-old oyster is the size of a pea, and a year-old oyster is about 1 inch across. Oysters grow about 1 inch per year for the first 3 to 4 years, and then they grow more slowly. Oysters have been found that are as long as 12 inches! Now that would make a very long po-boy! Most oysters live about 6 years, but some live as long as 20 years!


Oysters are among the state's more valuable shellfish. Oysters grow in abundance in the rich estuarine waters of coastal Louisiana. A mix of fresh and salt water is the habitat of the American Oyster, Crassostrea virginica. Louisiana residents have long known the high food value of oysters. CC eats oysters any which way, but Sue prefers them cooked. I do not eat these slimy little critters, but humans all over the world enjoy different species of this mollusk.


Louisiana's coastal wetlands are a leading oyster-producing area of the United States. The oyster is yet another valuable creature that depends on our stewardship and care for the protection of its habitat.

- Coastal Louisiana supplies or transports about one quarter of our nation's oil and natural gas.
- Oil is a non-renewable resource that we must conserve.
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1. Consider the products that you use that are made from oil or petroleum products. Think of ways that you and your family could cut down on your consumption of oil and oil products. Post a reminder list on your refrigerator for all to see! Some good ideas:

- Walk, ride your bike, or carpool, and ride in your car less.
- Recycle used motor oil.
- When it is cold, put a sweater on instead of turning up the heat in your house.
- Urge your family to buy cars that get good gas mileage.
- Don't buy plastic merchandise that is used just once and then thrown away.
- Most power plants make electricity by burning natural gas or oil. So you can conserve these resources by using less electricity by turning off those lights, the T.V., and the stereo when you leave a room!

If we do not waste oil, for a very long time it will be around to help our machines run, to take us to neat places, and to be turned into cool products like a new pair of rollerblades!

Check out some statistics on our primary source of energy!
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la·gniappe    (ln-yp, lnyp)
2. An extra or unexpected gift or benefit

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