Gulf Residents Demand an End to Drilling in the Gulf of Mexico & Beyond

Guest Post by Bryan Parras, a Houston-based filmmaker and photographer that specializes in documentation of environmental and social justice movement stories throughout the South and Southwest. Follow him on Twitter @HighTechAztec


Six years after the worst oil spill in the history of the United States, more than 40 residents from across the Gulf, joined by environmental and social justice organizations, held a rally in Houston at The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) public meeting calling for an end to offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

BOEM is currently seeking public input on the draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for 2017-2012 oil and gas leases. These meetings come on the heels of a major action that interrupted an oil and gas lease sale in New Orleans last month.

It’s hard to ignore the negative impacts that this industry has had on the region.  It’s also hard to ignore the dependency of the region on this same industry and yet, a growing number of people recognize that change is both necessary and eminent.


Mickey York was one such person waiting in the Hyatt Regency lobby where the BOEM “Open House” was scheduled to take place. York was inspired by and youth fighting the Keystone XL pipeline, but it was attending the Surround the Superdome action in New Orleans that was a “game changing experience.” York traveled to Houston from Montgomery County and brought her daughter with her.

“Montgomery County is a conservative area and many in my circles think that Obama is a tyrant and that climate change is a hoax so I want to change that,” York said.


New offshore leasing sales have raised the attention of the public since the Obama Administration abandoned its plans to drill in the Atlantic due to public outcry. The President has remained steadfast on oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Alaskan coast despite protest. People from directly impacted areas in the region have expressed a number of concerns around the “death cycle” of oil and gas extraction.

Gulf Coast residents and allies gathered outside of the public hearing in the wake of another historic flood event and held a press conference waving signs and banners at passersby.

Participants marched across four blocks with a large banner that resembled a street side news ticker.  The banner read Keep It In The Ground and was accompanied with the chant;

“A just transition is our mission; shut the auctions down.

A just transition is our mission; keep it in the ground.

A just transition is our mission; protect, restore, defend.

A just transition is our mission; your auctions have to end.”


The chant comes from a growing movement made up of a diverse network of individuals, organizations and Indigenous communities across the country. One overarching concern is that the United States will not meet goals set in place by the Paris Climate Agreement and properly address climate change concerns. According to the protestors, the current EIS does not do enough to confront the global climate crisis.

“We don’t think their environmental impact statement is fair because it doesn’t take into effect climate change,” said Cyrus Reed, conservation director for Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter.

Currently, the EIS accounts for greenhouse gases that are made during the exploration phase but does not take into consideration the climate impacts from what is ultimately extracted from any one well. The greenhouse gases produced by oil & gas extraction is not currently taken into consideration in the EIS.

“Some folks don’t believe in climate change, but those who live here in Houston have seen a lot of rain and flooding. This is confirmation of what scientists have been saying, that we do have climate change issues here in Houston,” said Juan Parras, director of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.)

In fact, as more evidence mounts, local scientists and academics are beginning to make the link and people are starting to listen.  As the press conference began two men in a Prius drove up to the protestors.  The driver said with a big Texas smile, “I’m still drilling, but I drive a Prius. That’s got to count for something.” Surrounded by oil & gas giants like Exxon, Chevron and Shell, that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for a Houstonian.


Five years ago, folks wouldn’t have had the same humor about the situation. Record droughts, torrential rainfall and other erratic weather patterns have impacted everyone. It’s hard to deny that something is happening and everyone in the city is being impacted.

Many of the protestors felt that if drilling should be stopped, it should be in the Gulf of Mexico or the Alaskan coast where the country has already suffered two of the largest oil spills on U.S. shores.

“They are not allowing oil and gas drilling on the east coast or the west coast so why should we be dumped on in the Gulf South states?  We need to fight against it. We need to remind people about the BP incident and how we are still trying to recover,” Parras said.

The Gulf Coast may be the only shoreline to have been continuously drilled since offshore drilling began in the 1930s. The only reprieve was a 6-month moratorium that was imposed by the Obama Administration after the BP drilling disaster. Gulf Coast residents point to this as an example of the disproportionate impacts that the region has had to face for America’s energy needs.

“Increased drilling in the Gulf perpetuates the treatment of the region as a ‘sacrifice zone.’ We have already seen what offshore drilling does to our economy, wildlife, health, and our planet. Instead of more drilling in this sacrifice zone, we should be building a 21st century transportation system and investing in the kind of clean energy that will create jobs and infuse new life into our economy,” said Reed.



After the press conference and rally, the crowd made its way up to the meeting space where BOEM had a series of caucus-like breakouts that were divided into different EIS sections. A video explained the EIS process and described BOEM’s congressional mandate.

Officials were present to answer questions at the stations and others were available for private discussions at several small tables in the center of the room. Five computers were available for attendees to submit their comments on one side of the room.

A speaker from the rally questioned one official about the potential health impacts associated with oil and gas extraction.

“I was surprised and very disappointed to learn from BOEM that their social impact analysis of the Deepwater Horizon disaster did not include any analysis about the public health consequences of the spill and cleanup which were enormous and largely a result of systemic corruption. Their impact analysis cannot be adequate if they are skirting the subject of the public health impacts of spills and drilling,” said Aly Tharp, a member of Tar Sands Blockade.

BOEM does not look into health impacts that may result after the well is built, only during exploration.

After several hours talking and debating, protestors unfurled their banners in the room and started to chant, “A just transition is our mission, shut the auctions down…”


One of the banners simply said, “Deepwater Horizon, April 20, 2010. NO NEW LEASES.” A picture of the well in flames with black smoke enveloping the clear sky was pictured on the canvas.  A poignant reminder of the devastation caused six years ago. No cops were called and security let the protestors have their say.

Overall, attendees considered the rally a success. The folks at the hearing in Houston, TX hope to shape policy and influence decision makers. They plan to get over a million comments submitted during this open comment period.

“I was really happy because BOEM said they never had turn out like this before. We had people that were excited to come out and say no new drilling, not in the Gulf, not in the Arctic, not on the Eastern Seaboard, not in the West. Its time for oil to move on. We want a just transition for our communities.  In order to do that, it’s out with the old, in with the renewable.  What we have to do is keep it in the ground,” said Cherri Foytlin, a resident of Rayne, LA, and a vocal critic of offshore drilling.

Sign this petition today to call on the federal government to stop new drilling on all of our coasts.

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