For several years, scientists and industry experts have been keenly aware of the problem brewing on along the Louisiana coastline running along the border of the Gulf of Mexico. Day after day, the shoreline is disappearing into the Gulf, exposing the infrastructure of the state’s oil and gas industry, and threatening longterm havoc if the problem goes untended.
All the way back in 2014, Scientific American reported on the phenomenon, explaining that over the course of the twentieth century, some 2,000 square miles of coastline had simply dropped into the sea. That’s the equivalent of one football field worth of land washing away every hour. And there’s every indication that number could increase as the years go on.
The cause of the erosion is still undetermined, though environmentalists are pointing a loud (though completely unfounded) finger at the oil and gas industry.
The marshes, you see, are home to half of the United States’ oil refineries, the heart of an industry that at one point served ninety percent of the United States offshore energy production. Connecting those refineries is a labyrinthine series of interlocking, underground pipes that feed crude to the refineries. Now, however, those pipes and the people they serve are in danger thanks to the receding coastline.
Built several decades ago, the pipelines aren’t equipped to deal with the corrosion caused by the seawater. The pipes were built to be underground, protected by the thin layer of soil provided by the marsh. Some experts put the potential infrastructure loss at around $100 billion if the issue goes unchecked.
In addition to the damage done to the industry, there could be irreparable damage done to the local habitat. In addition to the refineries, the Louisiana marshes is home to several wildlife preserves like Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. Big Branch provides, “critical spawning and nursery habitat for a number of fresh and saltwater species” as well as protection for a number of deer, rabbit, mink, otter, raccoon, muskrat, and nutria.
Of course, while activists have plenty of accusations to hand out, when it comes to fixing the problem, they’re turning (angrily) to the local oil and gas industry, telling them that it’s their duty to protect their interests by protecting the environment. And while environmentalists shout about filing lawsuits, there’s every indication that the oil and gas industry has already begun (without provocation) to help fix the problem at hand, by donating thousands of acres of land for research, and by helping to sustain the habitats of the critters living on the land it’s using for pipelines.