Shrimp, Petroleum and a Hurricane Named Katrina


Last week I wrote about about my friend Mary Osborne’s trip to the Gulf. Writing it hit me a hard emotionally, as I’m preparing to tour the area with a delegation of people from my hometown of Portland, Oregon in the next few weeks. Right now, we’re doing logistics, fundraisers, etc., readying ourselves for time on the ground interviewing, hearing stories and communing with the gulf residents.

Reading the headlines, we typically hear only about BP crap this, or Obama crap that, but we don’t hear much from the voices being affected; the people who can’t wake up from the nightmare. One journalist, Mac McClelland, a humanitarian writer for Mother Jones has been detailing the crisis in the gulf from an authentic, human perspective – talking to residents and getting involved in the community where this horror is taking place. Her stories are hard to hear at times – finally, this spring, residents were hoping for a big boom in tourism dollars after years of residue from Katrina. Well, we all know what happened.

Oil is both a blessing and a curse for states like Louisiana. The oil and gas industry essentially changed this state from an agrarian society to an industrial player. Oil and gas accounts for some 320,000 jobs in this region, which is no small sum. What statistics like this tell me is that I have to ditch my presumptions, my preconceived notions of what story I want to tell. It’s going to be way more complex than I can imagine, and it’s going to hurt the heart.

The goal is to bring stories back to Portland, and share them with our community. I was in a meeting with our media team, talking to our videographer who was on the fence about going. I’ll be directing a lot of what we focus on, and his simple question to me was, “What is this film about?” I couldn’t answer. That’s the rub exactly. I’ve worked on documentaries before, and typically you go into the whole deal with a treatment or at least a shot list. But we’re going to be Dante searching for Virgil here, and I’m overwhelmed. I have no idea what we’re going to see down there. Sure, we’ll see oil, and we’ll see birds in pain, but what are the cacophony of thought bubbles drifting out from front stoops?  What are the permutations of fisherman who have lost their livelihoods? Their identity? There are so many questions.

I guess I’m going to listen to my heart as we wander and do my best. I’m going to listen for the quiet voices in the room and work on telling their stories. You’ll hear them all on EcoSalon in the coming weeks.

Here is a video from Louisiana resident and TED speaker Casey DeMoss Roberts, talking about the intricate relationship between two very different but interconnected ways of life – shrimp and petroleum.  We’re about to feel this, firsthand. Heavy.

Watch live streaming video from tedxoilspill at

Image: Shrimp Petrofest