A federal Minerals Management Service study concludes what Louisianians have known for a long time: oil and gas production has taken a significant toll on Gulf Coast wetlands, contributing to this state’s land loss crisis.
The report also points out that destruction caused by pipeline and navigation channel construction could be avoided or reduced by using the least damaging and most easily mitigated construction method.
These findings, which went unpublished for two years, lend strong support to Louisiana’s argument that the federal government should bear a greater share of coastal restoration costs. Oil and gas networks serve the energy needs of the entire nation, and it’s only fair that the environmental cost be shared, too.
Louisiana loses the equivalent of a football field in land area to erosion every 38 minutes, leaving our coast far more vulnerable to storms. Coastal communities here are at greater risk, but so are fisheries, shipping, and oil and gas networks _ all of which have a national dimension.
The Mineral Management Service found that the largest losses from oil and gas activity were in Louisiana and Texas. Outer Continental Shelf pipelines and navigation channels cover 11 percent of the Louisiana coast, and land loss near pipelines in Louisiana was consistently higher than regional loss rates, a pattern that also was seen in navigation canals east of the Atchafalaya River.
Louisiana had the highest rates of land loss within 500 feet of Outer Continental Shelf-related pipelines. The rate in the Louisiana delta is higher partly because of the greater density of pipelines and the state’s large number of open pipeline canals. The study also cited a cumulative effect that hundreds of pipelines can have on regional land loss trends.
Experts say that time is short to launch meaningful restoration efforts. Doing so must be a national priority, and that’s a message that President Barack Obama needs to hear when he visits New Orleans this month. His itinerary needs to include a first-hand look at our devastated coastal wetlands.
This study also should be used to guide state and federal permitting for future oil and gas production projects. The Mineral Management Service found that dredging of flotation canals, which are about 250 feet wide, is far more damaging than other methods. Directional drilling, for example, removes soil or marsh only at the point where pipe enters and exits. The study also recommended that pipeline mitigation should include keeping adjacent marsh at pre-construction heights and restoring hydrology to pre-construction conditions.
Louisiana faces a huge challenge in reversing decades of damage; it’s imperative that going forward, the state Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers require the energy industry to use the most environmentally sensitive approach
– The Times-Picayune, New Orleans