Isaac and the Energy Sacrifice Zone

Tarballs brought in from Hurricane Isaac on East Ship Island, MS. Hurricane Isaac once again highlighted the Gulf’s unfortunate position as America’s Energy Sacrifice Zone. The storm churned up BP’s oil and lead to over 90 new reports of spills and industry failures.Hurricane Isaac showed that much of BP’s oil remains in the soils and just below the waters of the Gulf, even in many areas the Coast Guard has let BP off the hook for cleanup. Tarballs, tarmats, oil, and oily debris have been washed ashore in areas particularly hard hit by the oil disaster. A long stretch of the Louisiana coast has been closed due to the resurgence of tarballs and tarmats. A GRN trip to Ship and Horn Islands off the coast of Mississippi yesterday found a plethora of tarballs and other oily debris and remnants likely from BP’s oil.BP should be here cleaning up their mess. The inordinate amount of tarballs, tarmats, and oil coming ashore in areas that saw some of the most severe damage in 2010 and 2011 are BP’s responsibility, but the Coast Guard has abdicated them of cleanup responsibility in many areas. For the tarmat that closed the beach in Louisiana, the Coast Guard is investigating and it will take a week for tests to show its BP’s oil. That’s a week of not cleaning up, that’s resources needlessly spent on testing oil in an area that has clearly been in BP’s line of destruction since April 2010.The Coast Guard must continue holding BP’s feet to the fire to clean up resurgent oil, and they’ve got to stop prematurely letting BP off the hook anywhere else on the Gulf Coast.Unfortunately, BP isn’t the only fossil fuel industry player with pollution on their hands after Isaac. There are over 90 incidents that have been reported to the National Response Center, including 6 from Gulf Restoration Network (see our Isaac flyover blog for more). From coal terminals to leaking refineries and abandoned infrastructure spilling oil in wetlands, the industry is clearly not prepared for even a relatively minor storm.Storm-damaged Conoco Phillips refinery in Plaquemines Parish, LA. Nearby storage tanks are leaking into surrounding farmland and wetlands.Flooded-out Kinder Morgan International Marine Terminal on the west bank of Plaquemines Parish, LA. Flooded and wind swept coal runoff pollutes nearby communities, wetlands, farms, wetlands, and wildlife.After Katrina, homeowners throughout the region had to grapple with the reality of new flood maps, higher insurance premiums, and improved building codes for hurricanes resiliency. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has made us safer. Now it’s time for industry to do the same.There is a clear need for reassessment of all energy infrastructure and facilities hurricane preparedness. Plants, terminals, and refineries must be made to build better protection levees around their facilities, have redundant and resilient safety measures, and do whatever it takes to protect the communities and environment that are clearly vulnerable to their pollution.Of course, local citizens are the best positioned to help ensure this is happening. Just like the father-son duo who courageously saved hundreds in Braithwaite while the Coast Guard waited for daylight and less wind, locals have the best knowledge for protecting their communities. We need to help enable that further.A Gulf of Mexico Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council will give local, impacted communities the resources they need to put their valuable knowledge to work in ensuring that industry lives up to environmental and safety laws.The same energy infrastructure that is leaking poisons into our wetlands and waters now (or in some cases, just forcing everyone to see what’s been there for the last 2.5 years) is also largely responsible for the historical degradation of our natural storm protections. Energy exploration and pipelines are responsible for 30-60% of Louisiana’s wetlands loss. Fortunately, the interconnectedness of the problem is matched by an overarching solution.The best way to assist wildlife, fisheries, and people that continue to feel the impacts of the BP disaster and being in the Energy Sacrifice Zone is also the best way to protect communities vulnerable to floods – restore the Gulf’s wetlands and natural coastal areas.As readers of this blog know, the RESTORE Act will provide unprecedented resources to this end, and now we must ensure those resources are used appropriately and effectively.The good fight continues for the Gulf . . .Dan Favre is GRN’s Communications Director.

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