Cajuns, Living Down the Bayou, and Peak Oil
I’m not a Cajun myself, but I lived with the Cajuns in south Louisiana for eight years. In 1971, my mom moved us to that area, and we ended up in a place called Chauvin on a narrow strip of dry land between marshes. About ten miles south of us was Cocodrie. That's where the road ended. All directions were given in relation to the “front” bayou; whenever we went anywhere, we were going either “up the bayou” or “down the bayou.” Unless we went across the bayou or to the back bayou or to "town" (Houma), which was way, way up the bayou.
My stepfather spoke French and English, like the rest of his generation of Cajuns. He also worked in the oil industry, as did a great many Cajuns at that time. My relationship with Charlie was, to put it nicely, strained, but he did take me to visit two oil rigs. He was a toolpusher, the rig boss, the guy who coordinated the drilling operations on the rig, so he could get away with bringing kids onboard.
My first visit to an oil rig was during Christmas 1973. At the time Charlie worked for Penrod Drilling Company, and his rig, #50, was “stacked.” That is, it had been brought in from the Gulf of Mexico to the port in Cameron for maintenance. After being hoisted by a crane at least 50 feet up on a small, open platform, we spent several days on the rig. I even drew a picture of that rig, which later won second place in an art show.
A few years later, Charlie took me and a friend to an onshore rig. It was out in the marshes of south Louisiana, and this one was drilling. The “roughnecks,” the guys who actually get their hands dirty, were grinding through the rock with the drill and continually adding lengths of pipe to the drill string as the bit advanced.
Getting oil out of the ground is a bit more complex than it’s portrayed in old movies. We’re long past the age of gushers, when all we had to do was poke a hole in the ground in the right place and then catch the oil that exploded up through the hole and filled barrels faster than we could put them in place.
A young oilfield maintains enough natural pressure to force oil up the wells drilled into it. As the field ages, however, the pressure diminishes. Injection wells help to keep the pressure up—and the oil flowing—by injecting water beneath or on the flanks of the oil column. Sometimes the gas that comes out with the oil is reinjected for this purpose too. Over time, the water finds its way into the wells and eventually ends their production.
In Texas and Louisiana, I grew up in the heart of the American oil industry. I saw rigs, pipelines, refineries, and pumping stations spread across the landscape. When I moved there in 1971, Louisiana was producing more oil than it ever had—or ever would again. By the time I left Louisiana in 1983, far fewer Cajuns were working in the oil industry, and the economy of the state was devastated.
The world is now at or near its peak oil production. We've been stuck at 85 to 87 million barrels per day since late 2004. What happens when global oil supplies start their relentless decline? The US and about 50 other oil-producing countries are in decline now. When the world’s oil output starts decreasing year after year, will we be ready? We can’t import oil from the Moon.