The oil industry employs about 58,000 Louisiana residents and has created another 260,000 oil-related jobs, accounting for about 17 percent of all Louisiana jobs. The average annual oil-industry salary is $95,000 – a very good income in Louisiana.
Moreover, in 2008, oil and gas made up 6.5 percent of Louisiana's revenue, more than five times the national average. As a result, Louisiana and offshore drilling have become synonymous.
"One third of the oil produced in this country comes from offshore, and 80 percent of offshore production comes from deep water off Louisiana," says Eric Smith, associate director of Tulane University's Energy Institute.
Indeed, 40 deepwater platforms operate in depths comparable to that of the Deepwater Horizon rig, producing petroleum from more than 400 wells off Louisiana, according to Mr. Smith. "Deepwater is ... the most productive area of oil production and that's where the big companies are working," he says.
This all plays into Louisiana's response to what some scientists suggest is already the biggest oil spill in American history.
To be sure, the state of Louisiana and its parishes are not doing nothing. A state Senate panel on May 18 endorsed a bill that would make it easier for the state to sue BP. And on May 17, the Terrebonne Parish district attorney filed suit against BP, seeking unspecified damages for wildlife killed or injured by the oil leak. The suit is the first filed on behalf of the state over the oil spill and is expected to be followed by similar claims from other coastal parishes.