If you think you’d like a novel about an industry that destroyed a state’s coastline and wetlands with impunity (while parking their fortunes in offshore bank accounts), then Hydrocarbon Hucksters is not for you.
If you like fiction about politicians who will do whatever it takes to get their hands on dirty campaign contributions, don’t bother reading this book. What Ernest Zebrowski and his niece, Mariah Zebrowski Leach, have written is not fantasy, not the product of fertile imaginations; it’s real.
If you already have high blood pressure you will not want to read about how ExxonMobil made $35 billion in profits in 2009 and filed a 24,000-page tax return showing it owed zero dollars in taxes.
You also probably would not want to know that Wall Street futures speculators, those suits who never owned so much as a gas can, are responsible for adding about 30 percent to the cost of a fill-up at the pump.
Inspired by the April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent 4.9 million-gallon oil spill that devastated the Louisiana and Mississippi coastlines, Hydrocarbon Hucksters: Lessons from Louisiana on Oil, Politics, and Environmental Justice (University Press of Mississippi, 193 pages) is a new book scheduled to hit the bookshelves in early 2014 which takes an unflinchingly critical look at the sordid relationship between Louisiana politicians and the oil industry and how the state’s environment has paid a heavy price for that illicit romance.
The Zebrowskis are certain to rankle more than a few power brokers in Baton Rouge and on the corporate boards of major oil companies like ExxonMobil, BP, Marathon, Shell, ConocoPhillips and Chevron.
Ernest Zebrowski of Baton Rouge, a former Southern University professor, collaborated with Ruston Ph.D. Judith Howard on the 2007 analytical study Category 5: The Story of Camille, Lessons Unlearned from America’s Most Violent Hurricane (University of Michigan Press, 304 pages) a book that was as gripping as it was informative.
This book is unique in that it takes on giant corporations and high-profile politicians like Gov. Bobby Jindal, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, and President Barrack Obama without favoring one political party over another.
It tells, for example, of how Congressman Jindal backed renewable energy until he lost his 2003 bid for the governorship because oil and gas was not behind his campaign and how he converted and knelt at the altar of fossil fuel, became the industry’s darling and won in his second try in 2007. Jindal even called President Obama’s attempt to impose a 60-day moratorium on drilling in the outer continental shelf after Deepwater a “second disaster” on a par with the devastation of the oil spill itself—something of a stretch, to be sure.
It tells how Mary Landrieu took thousands of dollars in oil and gas money and defied Obama even though the moratorium affected only 33 projects in the Gulf (not a single oil-producing well in the Gulf was ever shut down) and even though only a few hundred jobs were in danger of being lost despite the claim of a federal district judge in New Orleans who ruled against the moratorium with the claim that it could eliminate up to 150,000 jobs.
(That same judge, by the way, failed to disclose that he had significant energy investments—an apparent conflict of interest that should have resulted in his recusing himself.)
The Zebrowskis also debunk certain claims about the negative effects of Obama’s proposed six-month moratorium on new outer continental shelf drilling; the share tax secrets about oil companies that they would rather you did not know, and reveal how the state’s elected officials depend on oil money and obligingly reciprocate with oil-friendly regulations.
The Zebrowskis, backed by painstaking research, take you on a 183-page historic tour of the petroleum industry in Louisiana that will leave you shaking your head in wonder that a state so rich in oil and natural gas could rank so high in poverty, so low in education and so smarmy in its political leadership. Republicans and Democrats alike are subjected to critique in Hydrocarbon Hucksters. No one is spared the Zebrowskis’ critical examination. Once you read Hydrocarbon Hucksters, you will never feel the same again when you fill your gas tank—about oil companies, Wall Street, Congress, or the Louisiana Legislature.
But the Zebrowskis don’t stop with simply criticizing oil companies, Wall Street and politicians. They offer solutions, however improbable it may be that any of them will ever be implemented as long as oil money flows. Among those proposed solutions:
- Designate oil companies as public utilities, a step already taken in Canada and other countries, so as to regulate profits;
- Ban speculative profiteering by Wall Street futures traders;
- Require oil companies to restore the environment to its natural state;
- Revise the corporate tax codes;
- Get serious about the development of electric wind-powered, synthetic and hydrogen-based energy;
- Develop high-speed electric rail mass transit projects as an alternative to air travel;
- Expand recycling.
At least one of these, a high-speed rail line between New Orleans and Baton Rouge was already attempted but rejected by Gov. Bobby Jindal who spurned a federal grant to fund the project over the objections of Baton Rouge business leaders.
(Subsequent to the manuscript’s completion, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority filed suit against more than 100 oil and gas companies in an action that could run into the billions of dollars for restoration of the Louisiana Gulf Coast, a move that came under harsh criticism from Jindal.)
So long as oil money can continue to purchase politicians, there is little to no chance of any of the Zebrowskis’ recommendations ever becoming reality. Hydrocarbon Hucksters, however, is an eye-opening read that you should plan to purchase as a handy reference as soon as it hits the shelves next year.