SEJ's 24th Annual Conference Agenda — Thursday



Day Tours
Independent Hospitality Receptions
Exhibit Sneak Peek
And More TBA!



Agenda Registration Lodging/Travel Advertise/Exhibit Environmental News About New Orleans


Thursday, September 4, 2014


Note: All information is subject to change. Please check back often for updates and information on event times, speakers, etc.


Tours in the Field

Advance registration is required for all Thursday tours. Attendance on each tour is strictly limited, so registering early is important. Departure times vary (see below), but all Thursday tours will return to the New Orleans Hilton Riverside about 5:00 p.m. For those looking for some exercise, tours 2, 3 and 7 are your best options. Other tours involve moderate exercise. Tours 4 and 9 are best suited for wheelchair accessibility.

1. After BP: Are We Really Prepared Offshore?

(6:30 a.m. departure, $40 fee, lunch included)

The BP Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill in 2010. © Photo courtesy | The Times-Picayune.

The four years since Deepwater Horizon have been about improving our readiness for spills and raising offshore drilling safety standards, but as Gulf drilling keeps expanding and pushing limits, U.S. regulators remain reactive rather than proactive, contractors still escape scrutiny and violations still get covered up. With that in mind, we will go behind the scenes at a leading spill response outfit, hear directly from offshore regulators, visit with a whistleblower who sacrificed his livelihood to expose offshore criminal activity and see for ourselves the safety challenges and unpredictability of working on an oil rig. Total drive time – 5 hours.


2. Rebuilding Barrier Islands and Restoring Marshes

(7:00 a.m. departure, $40 fee, lunch included)

Studies show most of Southeast Louisiana will be drowned by the Gulf of Mexico before 2100 because it’s sinking at one of the world’s fastest rates at the same time seas are rising. The state is fighting that fate by using river and offshore sediment deposits to rebuild sinking marshes and beachfronts. Attendees will visit a beach rebuilding project near Port Fourchon, just 50 miles by air from New Orleans, but a winding, two-hour bus ride across some of the fastest-subsiding wetlands on the planet. Total drive time – 4 hours.


3. If the Gators Don’t Get You... the Sinkhole Will

(7:15 a.m. departure, $40 fee, lunch included)

© Alligator photo courtesy Ly Cao.

What are ya, wimps? We’ll take you to the heart of Louisiana’s swampland to visit the Atchafalaya Basin and the Bayou Corne-area sinkhole. U.S. Geological Survey scientists will lead a morning boat trip into the million-acre basin, the largest river swamp in the United States. Here we’ll see alligators, wintering waterfowl, invasive nutria and huge cypress trees. Then, in the afternoon, you’ll see the sinkhole for yourself. The 26-acre hole emerged from cypress forest in August 2012 because a salt dome cavern failed deep underground. Hear from parish and Texas Brine Co. officials and residents about the environmental disaster. Total drive time – 4 hours.



4. Chemical Corridor: Industry, Community and Environmental Health Impacts

(7:30 a.m. departure, $40 fee, lunch included)

The boom in North American oil and gas extraction is fueling expansion in Louisiana’s petrochemical industry, with nearly $84 billion in new plant construction planned. We will visit petrochemical and refining facilities and their surrounding communities to learn how the plants operate and what the expected expansion will mean for the surrounding environment and neighboring communities’ health. We will hear from industry experts, environmental health and justice advocates, occupational health and safety experts to learn how environmental safety and health are addressed and how adjacent communities’ have been grappling with these issues. Total drive time – 3 hours.


5. Oyster Reefs and Fisheries in the Aftermath of BP and Katrina

(8:00 a.m. departure, $40 fee, lunch included)

We’ll head to Empire, near the Mississippi River’s mouth, and hop on boats to examine oyster reefs. Oysterers and scientists will discuss how oyster beds are seeded and harvested, and why the brackish mix of salt and fresh water is needed to grow the Gulf of Mexico’s large mollusks. We’ll also hear about impending new freshwater diversions that are expected to build wetlands, but also could doom existing oyster reefs. We’ll also discuss the effects of Katrina, the BP oil spill, changes in the oyster industry, and the low-oxygen “dead zone” along Louisiana’s coast on local oyster harvesting. We might even taste some oysters from the boat. Total drive time – 3 hours.


6. Fracking, and All That Oil and Gas

(8:30 a.m. departure, $40 fee, lunch included)

Louisiana is enjoying its biggest industrial boom since the oil bust in the 1980s, and decisions on new plants and expansions of existing ones are being driven by ample supplies of cheap natural gas, thanks to advancements in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology. Manufacturers who use the clean-burning fuel to power their facilities are reaping the benefits, particularly along the 70-mile corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Hear what experts on all sides of this issue have to say during a visit to a drilling site in Amite County, Miss., in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale formation, an emerging oil and gas play. Total drive time – 4 hours.


7. Louisiana’s Great Lakes, Cypress Swamps and Woodpeckers

(9:00 a.m. departure, $40 fee, lunch included)

We’ll visit the Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station on Lake Maurepas for a pontoon boat ride through cypress swamps, followed by a dip-netting exercise and a delicious lunch of alligator sauce piquant and other local delicacies. Then we’ll visit the Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge, a gem on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, where we may catch a glimpse of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. All along the way, we’ll hear from experts about threats to the Pontchartrain Basin and what’s being done to understand and combat them. Total drive time – 2.5 hours.


8. Risky Business: How New Orleans’ Rebuilt Levee System Is So Much Better, But Not Good Enough

(9:30 a.m. departure, $40 fee, lunch included)

We tour the post-Katrina hurricane storm surge risk reduction system — the Army Corps of Engineers’ new name for the flood protection system — and learn how dramatic improvements in design requirements and new technology make New Orleans the best-protected city in the nation. But, we’ll also learn how that protection still won’t save the city from being flooded by the Big One. The tour will view new earthen levees, a 2-mile-long, 26-foot-high storm surge barrier, and a new pump station that could drain all the water out of an Olympic-sized swimming pool in five seconds. Total drive time – 2 hours.


9. The Long Road Home: Community Resilience, Adaptations, and Legacies From America’s Biggest Rebuild

(10:00 a.m. departure, $40 fee, lunch included)

Collaborative rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.

Each New Orleans community took its own road home. We’ll look at what determines who comes back, efforts to rebuild better, and what others can learn from our disaster experiences. We’ll tour the Lower 9th Ward to check in on Brad Pitt’s Make It Right houses, Habitat for Humanity’s Musician Village, and more traditional church-run renovation projects. We’ll help replant Bayou Bienvenue, and have lunch with the Vietnamese fishing and farming communities. We’ll return via the Lakefront and discuss efforts to re-connect residents with water. Finally, we’ll visit Broadmoor’s Rosa F. Keller Library and Community Center and dance with their high school marching band. Total drive time – 3 hours.


Independent Hospitality Receptions

Looking for networking opportunities? After spending all day out on tours, meet with hosts of independent receptions. They’ll have experts, displays, information, and, of course, great food and drink. Check back here this summer to see the roster of 2014 hosts.

Location: TBA


Wednesday, September 3
Friday, September 5 and Saturday, September 6
Sunday, September 7