Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Blood for oil... again... not to mention environmental catastrophe

Now that the cleanup is beginning, I wonder what will be done in the way of rebuilding New Orleans. I have found these two articles very interesting, they have been passed around a lot: the National Geographic article Gone With the Water published in 2004, and the Scientific American article Drowning New Orleans by Mark Fischetti from 2001. These are fascinating reads. (click the title bar if my links don't work for some reason. It's a link to the snopes.com entry on both items)

Excerpts from these articles:
A major hurricane could swamp New Orleans under 20 feet of water, killing thousands. Human activities along the Mississippi River have dramatically increased the risk, and now only massive reengineering of southeastern Louisiana can save the city.

It was a broiling August afternoon in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Big Easy, the City That Care Forgot. Those who ventured outside moved as if they were swimming in tupelo honey. Those inside paid silent homage to the man who invented air-conditioning as they watched TV "storm teams" warn of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Nothing surprising there: Hurricanes in August are as much a part of life in this town as hangovers on Ash Wednesday.

But the next day the storm gathered steam and drew a bead on the city. As the whirling maelstrom approached the coast, more than a million people evacuated to higher ground. Some 200,000 remained, however--the car-less, the homeless, the aged and infirm, and those die-hard New Orleanians who look for any excuse to throw a party.

The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The water crept to the top of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level--- more than eight feet below in places--- so the water poured in. A liquid brown wall washed over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of the Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District, until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like the pale rider of the Apocalypse. As it reached 25 feet (eight meters) over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it.

Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood later perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be rescued. It took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big Easy was buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people were homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.

When did this calamity happen? It hasn't--- yet.

The area was undoubtedly sinking, the articles say that the delta was sinking at a rate off an acre every 24-33 minutes, or 25-30 square miles a year. What was causing this? Is this a natural disaster or a man-made one? Even without the bunglings of Bush and FEMA, it's both.

The soil will naturally compact and sink, then spring floods would build up soil deposits. That is what nature wants, but industry and commerce have re-engineered everything with levees, canals and pipelines.

Former petroleum geologist Bob Morton, now with the U.S. Geological Survey, noticed the increased loss of wetlands during peak oil and gas production and discovered that the extraction of these things was a major cause of the slumping land.
--"When you stick a straw in a soda and suck on it, everything goes down," Morton explains. "That's very simplified, but you get the idea."--

There is an excellent program on New Orleans that is playing on the History Channel now which is all about the levees, the science, the industry and the reasons why. In fact, I was writing this post when it came on, and since it's so late now, I am taping it to watch later. Coincidence!

Anyway, it pains me that when New Orleans is rebuilt, the same dangerous scenario will again threaten the people living there. I wonder if Halliburton and the others are taking those people's lives into consideration? Something needs to change here, and I'm not sure exactly what, how to do it, or how much it will cost. Hoping for the best, but not expecting it.

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1 comment:

Marcelo Touchette said...

This is very informative. I hope to see more in the near future