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article imageRecord Mississippi River flood now threatens oil and gas industry

By Lynn Herrmann     May 11, 2011 in Environment
Baton Rouge - As the flooding Mississippi River continues its historical downstream advance, new fears have arisen over possible inundation of oil refineries and oil and gas wells in Louisiana, prompting the state’s governor to label it a “very serious flood.”
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has urged residents in flood-prone areas to evacuate, saying people should not wait, as the situation is becoming dangerous. “My advice is not to wait. Get prepared now,” he said at a Baton Rouge news conference, KSLA News reports.
Steps have been taken by the US Army Corp of Engineers to protect New Orleans by opening the Bonnet Carre spillway situated along the Mississippi River in an attempt to divert water from the city. The spillway has 350 gates, and 28 are being opened. Additional gates will be opened if the situation warrants it.
Waters from the swollen river are expected to inundate areas west of its banks, impacting 24,000 people and 13,000 structures, with those areas being covered by as much as 18 feet of water.
Also identified as likely being impacted by the flood waters are at least two oil refineries and more than 1,750 oil and gas wells. “This is a very serious flood,” Jindal said, according to Agence France Press. “We haven’t seen this kind of flooding since 1927,” he added.
Oil prices are expected to push higher over the possibility that fuel transportation will be impacted by the flood, in addition to oil supplies being hit and refineries temporarily shutting down.
Soldiers of the Louisiana National Guard began building sand-filled basket carriers in Morgan City on Monday, as a precaution against potential flood waters that could occur if the Morganza Spillway is opened. “Flood waters may top the levee, so we are adding three more feet to the top of the levee in an attempt to keep water out of this residential neighborhood,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Samson, in a news release (pdf).
The worst flooding in more than 70 years has hit the central US, with the swollen river leaving a path of destruction in its wake, including lost homes, ruined crops and flooded farmland, beginning in Illinois and down through Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. Louisiana is next in line.
Heavy rains in April filled tributaries of the Mississippi, and they are backed up because of the flooding. Portions of the river have been closed to shipping.
Flooding in Memphis at Riverside Drive @ Beale Street
Flooding in Memphis at Riverside Drive @ Beale Street
Chris Weiland
Analyst Nic Brown noted: “Flooding in the lower Mississippi valley, where 11 refineries process up to 2.5 million barrels a day, is causing problems for the US oil and oil product markets,” AFP reports. “Some refineries may need to be closed temporarily, while the transportation of both crude and oil products may also be impacted,” he added.
If the shutdowns last for an extended period of time, Americans could be seeing even more pain at the gas pumps. Already facing a voter backlash over rising gas prices, House Republicans last week passed a measure that would force the Obama administration to open up regions in the central and western Gulf of Mexico, as well as portions offshore from Virginia, for further oil and gas development. The measure is expected to have stiff opposition by a Democratic-controlled Senate.
The flooding is a sign of things to come, suggests a recently released report by the National Wildlife Federation. It notes that climate change is leading to more extreme weather events, with more severe droughts, heavier amounts of rainfall, a changing snowmelt pattern, and more intense tropical storms leading to a major challenge for the nation’s infrastructure.
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