Source of Post-Ida Oil Spill Identified


Truck on beach Hurricane Ida

Image: Ramsey Landry, Wikimedia Commons

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Days after an oil spill off the coast of Louisiana was first identified, divers identified the source as a pipeline displaced from a trench on the ocean floor. The Gulf of Mexico spill began off the coast of Port Fourchon  after Hurricane Ida tore through the region. The area of the spill is a longtime fossil fuel drilling site with “a latticework of old pipelines, plugged wells and abandoned platforms, along with newer infrastructure still in use,” NPR reports. At this time, there isn’t an estimate for how much oil has spilled, and the owner of the pipeline has yet to be identified. 

 

Why This Matters: Between onshore and offshore operations, the Gulf of Mexico is where about half of US petroleum refining and natural gas processing capacity is located. Oil and gas production is harmful even without a hurricane in the mix, but as demonstrated by Ida and countless other storms before — every pipeline comes with the risk of a spill. In the Gulf of Mexico, where warming waters are making storms more intense, that risk is only amplified. The fossil fuel infrastructure has also weakened the state’s natural protections by carving through wetlands, making flooding and storm surge more likely.

 

Oil Spill Isn’t the Only Fossil Fuel Impact from Ida

As of this weekend, Shell’s oil refinery in Norco was still sending out black smoke, another impact from the storm. The facility tried to burn off toxic chemicals pre- and post-storm, but “the hurricane blew out some of those flares like candles, allowing harmful pollution into the air,” the Guardian reports. The Shell refinery is just one of 17 reports of chemical or oil discharges called into the US Coast Guard’s National Response Center related to Hurricane Ida. 

 

Complicating the problem is a lack of data: much of the area most impacted by the storm remains without power, leaving many air quality monitoring systems out of commission. The state has not been responsive in the aftermath of the storm, waiting days to dispatch a mobile monitoring van, which means missing the window of time right after Ida made landfall when the chances of air pollution flaring up are highest. 

“When I think about releases from a storm like this, I’m more concerned about toxic releases than I am about greenhouse gas emissions,” Alex Kolker, a coastal scientist who serves on the science advisory group for the state’s Climate Initiatives Task Force told the Guardian.

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