Wednesday, March 30, 2011


For Louisiana’s offshore oil and gas industry, the news just keeps getting better: On March 22, federal officials cleared Exxon Mobil’s deepwater drilling permit, a revised permit to drill a new well approximately 240 miles off the Louisiana coastline, south of Lafayette in 6,941 feet of water (the Deepwater Horizon was 5,000 feet). It was the fourth in a month. And last week, the “permatorium” finally ended when the feds approved the first permit for completely new exploration in the Gulf of Mexico since the April 20 Deepwater Horizon disaster, saying Chevron Corp. had shown it could contain a subsea blowout. The good news about permitting arrived just as the Pew Research Center released a report on a turn in the public’s views toward offshore oil and gas drilling: 57 percent favor allowing more oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters, up 13 points since last June.

The old inside joke about Louisiana being the armpit of America isn’t so funny in the aftermath of a report released last week calling for expanded federal efforts to get to the bottom of 42 so-called “disease clusters” in the U.S., including four in the Bayou State. Drawing on research by federal, state and local officials along with peer-reviewed academic studies, the report by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry identifies uncharacteristically high disease groupings that include a high incidence of breast cancer near a former Superfund site in New Orleans, an apparent brain cancer outbreak in St. Mary Parish, and — closest to home — a cluster of childhood leukemia in Iberia Parish. Somebody, please, pass the Speed Stick!

Life for employees of Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper company and publisher of The Daily Advertiser, Opelousas’ Daily World and three other Louisiana dailies, has been grim over the last few years: downsizing and reorganization have resulted in layoffs, severance packages, pay cuts and furloughs. It’s tough for anyone committed to print journalism to swallow. But it hasn’t been all bad for Gannett brass. Gannett Blog, a website operated by a former Gannett editor, cites a recent shareholder proxy filled with details that top managers at the suburban Washington, D.C.-based company have been rewarded handsomely even as they mete out pain to the workaday reporters, editors and ad reps. Based on the shareholder report obtained by GB, Gannett’s CEO is pulling down $9.4 million in salary, bonuses and stock options, including a “platinum package” of extra benefits that includes use of the company jet along with personal legal and financial services. Nice work if you can get it.

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