Ida Hits One of the Nation’s Largest Oil and Chemical Centers

The most severe hurricane to hit Louisiana swept through one of the nation’s largest chemical, oil and gas hubs. And while the storm’s impact may take days or weeks to become fully clear, early reports of damage have raised concerns about the vulnerability of the region’s fossil fuel infrastructure to intensifying storms.

On Monday, officials warned that floodwaters were pouring over a temporary embankment set up near a Phillips 66 refinery in the state’s southernmost point, Plaquemines, which was most severely affected by Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago. And neighboring St. In Bernard Parish, nearly two dozen barges unanchored by the 150 mph winds of Hurricane Ida damaged the quay at the huge Valero Refinery there. News photos showed intense flooding and dark flames at Shell’s refinery and chemical complex further inland in Norco.

Previous hurricanes, including Harvey in 2017 and Laura in 2020, have caused oil and chemical releases from storage tanks and other facilities along the coast.

Bernardo Fallas, spokesperson for Phillips 66, said the company will “make a post-storm assessment of its refineries and sets when it’s safe.” The refinery “completed a safe and orderly shutdown of operations” prior to Ida’s arrival.

st. Bernard Parish president Guy McInnis said flood levels there had reached 14 feet and loose barges were causing “major damage” to the Valero refinery’s docks. The Coast Guard secured the barges, but Mr McInnis said “we will be out of business for a while”. Valero did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Louisiana’s 17 oil refineries account for about one-fifth of the nation’s refining capacity, with the ability to process roughly 3.4 million barrels of crude oil per day, according to the United States Energy Information Administration. In 2020, Louisiana’s two liquefied natural gas export terminals shipped about 55 percent of the nation’s LNG exports.

Most of this capacity was built after Katrina, and plans are underway for a dozen more liquefied natural gas export terminals in the region. landed on sunday.

Environmental groups have criticized these plans, saying they contribute to the climate crisis that poses a threat to these facilities. “Last year Laura landed with record strength in the other part of the state where they wanted to build this mess,” said Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a local environmental group. “At the best of times, it’s a disaster.”

Neighborhoods just outside these facilities, many of which are disproportionately made up of minorities, face other risks.

When refineries and chemical plants close before major storms, they spray toxic pollutants into the air, putting nearby neighborhoods at risk of exposure. In 2017, Houston’s petrochemical plants and refineries released millions of pounds of pollutants In the days after Hurricane Harvey began to accelerate towards Texas. And after the storm Explosions rock a chemical factory It’s northeast of Houston, which has lost its cooling power, releasing fumes that have triggered evacuations and sickened emergency workers.

Real-time pollution data was not yet available. But the risks come in a situation that already has the highest toxic air emissions per square mile in the country. According to this Audit of Louisiana’s environmental regulators The state, published in January by the Louisiana Office of the Legislative Auditor, had an average of more than 1,200 pounds of toxic air emissions per square mile—the state with the second-highest emissions at nearly 900 pounds per square mile, well beyond Ohio. Pollution won Louisiana’s industrial corridor and was beaten by Ida, nicknamed the “Cancer Road.”

The state’s offshore oil and gas rigs pose another threat. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan destroyed an oil platform about 10 miles off the coast of Louisiana, triggering the longest oil spill in United States history.

Soon Report published by the US Government Accountability Office It found that oil and gas producers were allowed to abandon 97 percent of offshore pipelines in the Gulf with no penalty.

“Hurricanes can and do move pipelines significant distances, posing a range of risks to the marine environment, navigation and fisheries,” said Kristen Monsell, senior attorney for the Center for Biodiversity, an environmental nonprofit group. “It’s scary to think about the increased risk of an offshore oil spill or other accident.”

Environmental groups hope the successive devastating hurricanes will spark a wider debate over the state’s energy and climate policies. According to the Energy Information Administration, Louisiana top three states in the country for total energy consumptionas well as per capita energy consumption as it has largely energy-intensive industries. The state ranks next to the last in renewables as a share of total energy consumption.

But in one shift, Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said this year He said the state must begin to drastically reduce fossil fuel emissions, the main driver of climate change, and its devastating effects, including intensifying hurricanes, flooding, rising sea levels and extreme temperatures.

“Taking action to address climate change can strengthen our communities and our economy,” said Governor Edwards.

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