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Losing Ground
August 28, 2014 6:35 PM   Subscribe


 
Nah, it's cool. We totally have the political will to face harsh truths and make difficult decisions. We got this.
posted by entropicamericana at 6:47 PM on August 28, 2014 [48 favorites]


At risk: Nearly all of the nation's domestic energy supply...

I don't think so. That will come as a surprise to West Virginia's coal miners, and oil companies operating in California and Alaska and North Dakota, among other things.

For that matter, it's rather a surprise to all of us in the PNW who get our electricity from hydro on the Columbia River.

This is a serious and interesting matter, but hyperbole serves no one.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:52 PM on August 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


50% of our refining capacity is threatened and 30% of our oil. Why quibble over the semantics. The potential disruption would be overwhelmingly bad.
posted by humanfont at 8:22 PM on August 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


It's the loss of refineries that will hit worst. You can't replace the capacity overnight, those things take years to build.
posted by arcticseal at 8:44 PM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


50% of our refining capacity is threatened

When natural and man-made disasters hit the refineries in Houston and the Gulf coast in the early- and mid-2000s, gasoline futures and gas prices spiked, even after Bush II threw away valuable strategic petroleum reserves to try to keep things under control.

When the water rises sufficiently and these affected refineries have to be shut down, it is almost assuredly a fact that gasoline prices will go up until new capacity comes online, if it ever does. There will be price gouging for energy — and lots of it.
posted by Mr. Six at 8:51 PM on August 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


It seems reasonable to think that the refiners know about this already. It would be interesting to know what they're doing to prepare. (Like private islands or something.)
posted by carping demon at 8:58 PM on August 28, 2014


Um, this is news?
posted by 99_ at 9:01 PM on August 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


It would be interesting to know what they're doing to prepare.

Rubbing their hands together in greedy anticipation most likely.
posted by Pudhoho at 9:51 PM on August 28, 2014 [4 favorites]




@99_ I've been haunted for a while now by John McPhee's piece about the river I have been in awe of and have loved all my life. I hope my ashes will join the meltwater and silt from the great midsection of this continent one day, hopefully before the channel jumps and joins the Atchafalaya. I've always felt faintly guilty that those Corps of Engineer levees have made it possible for me to live on either side of the river along its length, even here downriver, where I am barely above sea level.

This fine article has actually relieved some of my guilt by assigning some of the blame to the oil and gas industry for drilling, dredging and desecrating so much of this wilderness. I have come as far downriver as I want to go for now but I have lived here long enough to have friends who grew up 'down the bayou' and to know the serene wild beauty of the wetlands being lost.
posted by Anitanola at 10:00 PM on August 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


They don't dredge for oil or gas. "Drilling and dredging for oil and gas" is inaccurate. They dredge so that you can transport oil and gas and coal and ore from the midwest and crops from the midwest and all type of incoming products. They dredge for ships and confine the route for ships. The ACoE has attempted to mitigate this with very limited succes via "freshwater bypasses" which channel water from the Mississippi during peak flow.

The subsidence of the Louisiana coastline is the result of engineering decisions made in the interest of shipping which has denied the natural replenishment of sediment upon which vegetation grows which sustains the coastline against erosion.

The Mississippi river would turn west to the Atchafalaya Basin if given the option. And it nearly did once.

It's maybe an unimportant distinction but I think it's important to be accurate when describing these matters.
posted by vapidave at 10:04 PM on August 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


it is almost assuredly a fact that gasoline prices will go up

Good. We're in this mess largely because polluters (read: anyone who uses gas) don't pay for the full cost of their actions.

This is tragic for other reasons, but reducing the amount of petroleum that can be burned isn't one of them.
posted by ripley_ at 10:08 PM on August 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


Another big factor I didn't see mentioned in the ProPublica piece or that New Yorker piece is the effect of dams on the Missouri River. Dams have reduced Missouri River sediment loads by 75% [PDF] (I think I've seen that number as 60% elsewhere, but still it's over half) and that reduced load is still half of the Mississippi's ultimate sediment transport to the Gulf. So in addition to sea level rise, subsidence, oil and gas industry consequences, and flood control that results in most of the sediment going into the Gulf instead of replenishing the delta, there's just way less sediment going down the river to begin with.
posted by edeezy at 10:09 PM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


We're in this mess largely because polluters (read: anyone who uses gas) don't pay for the full cost of their actions.

No disagreement here, but refined petrochemicals do more than fill up SUV tanks. They heat homes, make fertilizers and plastics, etc. It will pretty severely disrupt everyone's way of life when we lose that much refining capacity, without other options on hand.
posted by Mr. Six at 11:02 PM on August 28, 2014


They don't dredge for oil or gas

the drilling rigs for wells in Louisiana marshes are have been floated on barges for decades. they require 8 foot draft.

with thousands of wells, the landscape gets chewed up by canals.

like this
https://www.flickr.com/photos/healthygulf/sets/72157644302280777/
or this
https://www.flickr.com/photos/healthygulf/13994172689/in/set-72157644649592881

the wider end at the canal is so that the drilling barge can turn around. it's also called a "keyhole" canal because of the shape.

before one drills in the marsh, one must dredge an access canal. these access canals have removed more than 120 square miles of Louisiana since 1932, according to USGS.

That is more land lost to the sum of small canals than land lost to large shipping canals like the MRGO and HNC, although these larger canals are deeper and change the Tides more.

Oil and gas companies SHALL restore the vegetation to these canals when oil extraction is done, according to the law. But the LA DNR is the body that enforces the law. this state agency also makes its revenue on oil leases. So the law is never enforced.

in the late 80s/ early 1990s, there was a push to enforce the law, and make oil and gas use hoverbarges so that they would have to fix the canals, and not dredge new canals. this push failed when buddy roemer was not re-elected governor of Louisiana.

I have studied this ecological and legal problem extensively. don't want to self link, but PM me for more information.

I also consulted a bit on this project for Propublica / the Lens, and my grandad is a petroleum geologist that drilled in Louisiana and Mississippi throughout his life.



TL;DR: in LA, you dredge for oil and gas. it's what shallow water drilling is all about.
posted by eustatic at 11:20 PM on August 28, 2014 [25 favorites]


Good. We're in this mess largely because polluters (read: anyone who uses gas) don't pay for the full cost of their actions.


Naturally you, in your Cayman Islands hideaway won't be affected or harmed by this. At all.
posted by happyroach at 11:55 PM on August 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


"these access canals have removed more than 120 square miles of Louisiana since 1932"

That's seven years at the current rate of loss.

I'm not saying that shallow water drilling doesn't have a deleterious effect on my beloved swamp, I'm saying that making the Mississippi into the highway that it is [and of course MRGO, which is of the same ilk] has had a much more dramatic effect on the degredation of the Louisiana wetlands than shallow water drilling. I'm certainly willing to learn though.

"I have studied this ecological and legal problem extensively. don't want to self link, but PM me for more information."

Um, I think I and others would appreciate your experience and a self link is well in order.
posted by vapidave at 12:51 AM on August 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


don't want to self link, but PM me for more information.

Self-linking is totally OK in a comment if it's germane -- please do feel free.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:28 AM on August 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


I was once involved in developing a proposed documentary project backed by Senator John Breaux, who was connected to an effort to tackle the issue around the millennium. I spent a lot of time speaking to most of the authoritative voices around the issue.

From what I recall, it isn't fair to pin this all on oil and gas, vapidave is correct about the impact of midwestern agriculture, shipping, and the development of the lower Mississippi. The river is shooting upriver sediment far out into the Gulf rather than replenishing erosion at the mouth.

Sadly, one of the angles was dealing with New Orlean's reduced resiliency to hurricanes because of this, and we wrote a speculative disaster scenario in 2001 with a major hurricane hitting and spilling Lake Pontchartrain over. When Katrina happened, it played out almost to the tee what we had described as predicted. So little excuse for the lack of FEMA preparation.
posted by C.A.S. at 5:21 AM on August 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


The Mississippi river would turn west to the Atchafalaya Basin if given the option. And it nearly did once.

I read the John McPhee piece on the Old River Control Structure linked above (and eventually went on to buy the book) and came away with two thoughts. First: The US Army Corps of Engineers has a lot of hubris. Second: At some point the Mississippi will jump to the Atchafalaya, possibly in a matter of hours, and south Louisiana, particularly New Orleans and Morgan City, will never be the same. It seems that whole area has been altered by us with consequences that we never grasped at the time and the cost of undoing what we've done is too great to even consider.

I seem to remember a documentary about the Mississippi/Atchafalyala connection on PBS, probably either Frontline or Nova, but can't find it now.
posted by TedW at 7:06 AM on August 29, 2014


This stuff has been repeated over and over again in the Louisiana public school system sense the early 90s (when I was in elementary school). Of course more emphasis was put on lack of natural replenishing due to controlling flooding and less on impacts of oil and gas. They both contribute. Ultimately the combined effect of lack of new sediment rising sea levels and natural erosion is a recipe for disaster.

Louisiana water system is tightly controlled to allow people to live there. One mistake and the Mississippi River, a hurricane or just plain geological activities will change the landscape forever and faster than anticipated. It is already changing.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:23 AM on August 29, 2014


My family is from southern Louisiana. There is a part of me that finds those small towns where everyone is working is these factories that are polluting everything and so many feel so hopelessly trapped and powerless to do anything about it so awful that I just think maybe they should all sink and we should all find a better way to get our energy needs, or accept changing how we view them as "needs".

Many of my family worked in them their whole lives, a lot of my friends had run away to texas to escape and the ones who stayed have made it a lot better. I remember once when we were all in highschool we were in Louisiana driving around, and one kid was talking about how he's going to work in the plants, and it's depressing but he's accepted it and he'll find a way to have a good life that way. And we were all quiet, others thinking it could be them trapped, maybe will be if they can't find a way to escape. And we all sucked at school, so... being trapped was likely. I feel like I remember that Modest Mouse song "Goddam I hope I can pass highschool" playing at the time, but I'm pretty sure I just associate the two memories because they represent each other so so well to me.

One of those friend did wind up trapped there, his wife wound up on hard drugs, they were both so full of life once... hope that they would get away. He still hopes... one day. But they're going to offer him a promotion so maybe he'll just stay.

Many of my family have gotten cancers and mysterious blood diseases, you can just see all the smoke constantly pumping out of them and the people are powerless to stop it. "Oh you can't prove it's causing disease so those of you poor enough or who struggle in school or getting schools elsewhere can take that risk". Meanwhile most people with means get out.

I know logically that the place sinking means they'll just rebuild factories and plants like this elsewhere, as they are already are elsewhere, and we'll actually have to choose to change this as a culture for it to stop, I just, there's this part of me that feels like any change at all, might offer more hope. Maybe emissions requirements will improve if they have to rebuild some of them elsewhere, maybe.. anything. Anything better. Though I know the likely outcome is just displaced people who wind up in other occupational hazards and toxic living communities and no ability to prove they deserve better.
posted by xarnop at 7:33 AM on August 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


> It will pretty severely disrupt everyone's way of life when we lose that much refining capacity, without other options on hand.

How is this not a good thing?

I don't care what Confucius's cousin-in-law may have said, I love living in interesting times.
posted by jfuller at 9:28 AM on August 29, 2014


I read the John McPhee piece on the Old River Control Structure linked above (and eventually went on to buy the book) and came away with two thoughts. First: The US Army Corps of Engineers has a lot of hubris. Second: At some point the Mississippi will jump to the Atchafalaya, possibly in a matter of hours, and south Louisiana, particularly New Orleans and Morgan City, will never be the same.

You mean the nation. That is going to fuck up refining and shipping for years. (Fucking up refining may not be a bad thing in the long term, though.) People still largely talk about this as a theoretical (if they talk about it at all), but I remember when New Orleans flooding like a punch bowl was theoretical until Katrina, too. The river WILL jump, and it will probably do so in our lifetimes.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:05 AM on August 29, 2014


the shipping element is being very overlooked here. The inland US shipping industry feels like something from another age, but remains huge - the volume going down the Mississippi is incredible.

I just came via Duluth, and that was once a boomtown of iron ore heading out the Great Lakes to build America, as well as to the Atlantic. Deep in the midwest and it is an international shipping port. These waterways feel like the 19th century, but like our railroads they are massive
posted by C.A.S. at 12:56 PM on August 29, 2014


I'm not saying that shallow water drilling doesn't have a deleterious effect on my beloved swamp, I'm saying that making the Mississippi into the highway that it is [and of course MRGO, which is of the same ilk] has had a much more dramatic effect on the degredation of the Louisiana wetlands than shallow water drilling.

I agree with you sideways.

A man is sick. you punch him in the gut, which wouldn't normally kill him. Because he is sick, he dies with your fist in his stomach.

What killed the man? his illness? the punch? are you free of blame for his death?

One cause is chronic, the other immediate--but both are causes. Both the US government's federally designated Grain shipping channel AND Chevron, Shell, BP, Exxon, etc are to blame.

And Coastal Use Law says that "cumulative impacts" of industry dredge and fill activities need to be assessed.

Saying one cause or the other is worse is technically incorrect, and it happens to play into an oil industry (particularly, Shell Pipeline) narrative that that industry is free from blame for destroying over 600 square miles of land.

I know 600 square miles doesn't sound like much (?) but actually, it's a lot and would do wonders for flood risk prevention in LA. (also those loss rates are slowing / not linear in the first place)

I can understand your despair, the need to give up hope, and the need to quote John McPhee, but I plead with you to not deflect from oil industry culpability in destruction of Louisiana's wetlands.
posted by eustatic at 1:27 PM on August 29, 2014


Louisiana Loses Its Boot
posted by brundlefly at 4:49 PM on September 8, 2014


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