Mixing Oil and Water
A look at what happens when land sinks and oil money is on the line.


The rain is still a few hours away, says Carlin Trahan, looking up at the gray sky and stepping onto a speedboat with the easy confidence of someone who has spent many days on the water here in coastal Louisiana.

With his friend David Dronet at the helm, Trahan, 74, and his lawyer, Warren Perrin, 67, are taking a Saturday morning boat ride to the Oaks Canal, known as “the Chêne” among French-speaking locals.

The three men have known each other nearly all their lives. But this is not a pleasure ride, says Perrin. Instead, they’re headed to family land that the state of Louisiana wants to claim as its own.

In all directions, the landscape is a blur of blue water and yellow marsh grass, dotted with scrubby trees and brush along the ridges. But Dronet knows the route, even though the shoreline is constantly changing and is said to be eroding faster than anywhere on earth, at the rate of roughly a football field-sized swath of land every 45 minutes. […]

As Dronet enters the mouth of the Chêne, he tells his passengers to brace themselves because there’s shallow water ahead. If he doesn’t speed up, he’ll get bogged in the mud, he says, gunning the engine, putting the nose of the boat into the air and sending water spraying up over both sides of the small craft. Dronet cuts the motor in front of a massive faucet, a wellhead, that sits on a metal platform and is connected to an oil well thousands of feet below the ground.

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