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Context of 'August 27, 2005: Oil Rigs off New Orleans Coast Evacuate'

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During the 75-year period between 1930 and 2005, more than 1.2 million acres of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands disappear. From 1932 to 1956, Louisiana loses 9,600 acres (15 sq. miles) of wetlands per year. The rate peaks between the years 1956 and 1978 at 26,000 acres (41 sq. miles) per year and then declines, falling to 20,000 acres (31 sq. miles) per year during the 1978-1983 period, and 16,000 acres (25 sq. miles) per year between 1983 and 1990. [Wicker, 1980 pdf file; Dunbar, Britsch, and Kemp, 1992; Barras, Bourgeois, and Handle, 1/1994; Barras et al., 2004 pdf file] After state and federal governments initiate a coastal restoration program in 1990 (see November 29, 1990) at a total cost of more than $400 million, the rate decreases to about 15,300 acres (24 sq. miles) per year. [Barras et al., 2004 pdf file] The decades of wetlands loss brings the Gulf Coast 30 miles closer to New Orleans; so by 2005, only about 20 miles remain between the below-sea-level city and the Gulf waters. [Houston Business Journal, 7/11/2003] Studies have projected that Louisiana’s coast will continue to lose land at a rate of about 6,600 acres per year (10 sq. miles) over the next 50 years, [Barras et al., 2004 pdf file] resulting in another 1000 square miles of wetlands being lost, an area almost equivalent in size to the state of Rhode Island. [Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force and Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Authority, 1998] The net loss of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands has been attributed to several factors, including the maintenance of shipping lanes, the dredging of canals, construction of flood control levees, and the withdrawal of oil and gas. [Environmental Protection Agency and Louisiana Geological Survey, 4/1987 pdf file; National Wetlands Research Center, 9/20/2005] The US Corps of Engineer’s flood control system of levees and dams is considered to be a major cause of wetlands destruction, as it prevents the Mississippi River from depositing sediment that is needed to sustain the wetlands. The oil and gas industry is also responsible for the net loss of wetlands. Thousands of canals for pipelines and drilling rigs are plowed during this period, often by the US Army Corps of Engineers, creating a scarred landscape and eroding the marshlands year after year. [Environmental Protection Agency and Louisiana Geological Survey, 4/1987 pdf file; Times-Picayune, 7/26/2002; Houston Business Journal, 7/11/2003] A study in 1982 estimated that as much as 90 percent of Louisiana’s land loss can be attributed to canals. [Turner, Costanza, and Scaife, 1982 pdf file] Furthermore, the extraction of oil and gas from beneath the Louisiana coast is believed (see 2002) to have increased the rate of subsidence, a term used to describe the phenomena whereby land slowly sinks. [Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies, 2002 pdf file] Other causes of wetland destruction include wave erosion, land reclamation, and rising sea levels. [Environmental Protection Agency and Louisiana Geological Survey, 4/1987 pdf file] Louisiana’s coast is a vitally important ecosystem and natural feature. It makes up about 40 percent of all US coastal wetlands and provides over-wintering habitat for 70 percent of the migratory birds that come down the Central and Mississippi flyways. [Environmental Protection Agency and Louisiana Geological Survey, 4/1987 pdf file; Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force and Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Authority, 1998; US Army Corp of Engineers, 11/8/2004] The wetlands and barrier islands (some 80 percent of these islands are lost during this period) serve as a natural protective barrier against hurricanes by reducing the size of storm surges. [Environmental Protection Agency and Louisiana Geological Survey, 4/1987 pdf file; Houston Business Journal, 7/11/2003; van Heerden, 2004] The region is also of vital importance to the US economy. By the late 1990s, the region contributes 30 percent by weight of the total commercial fisheries harvest in the continental US; 18 percent of US oil production; and 24 percent of US gas production. Louisiana’s ports outrank all other US ports in total shipping tonnage. [Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force and Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Authority, 1998; US Army Corp of Engineers, 11/8/2004]

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

A coalition of governmental agencies, elected officials, environmental organizations, and community groups launch a campaign to increase public awareness about Louisiana’s disappearing coastal wetlands. The campaign—backed with a $3 million grant from Shell Oil, one of the campaign’s partners—is called “America’s Wetland.” The impact of the wetlands’ disappearance on Louisiana’s coastal ecology has been the focus of environmentalists and scientists for years. And scientists have also been warning that the loss of the state’s coastal wetlands and barrier islands has made coastal population centers such as New Orleans increasingly susceptible to hurricane-generated storm surges that could cause massive flooding. What’s unique about this program is that it stresses how the loss of wetlands will impact the oil industry and national economy. The campaign argues that coastal erosion is threatening the oil companies’ network of oil and natural gas rigs, pipelines, and refineries throughout the region. Losing this infrastructure would result in higher oil prices. Furthermore, the state’s fisheries—which make up 30 percent of the nation’s total annual catch—are also vulnerable. “The coast is really about money, aside from the ecological value of it,” explains outgoing Republican Governor Mike Foster, who played a major role in the campaign’s formation. [Associated Press, 6/6/2004; Americas Wetlands, 9/21/2005]

Entity Tags: Royal Dutch/Shell, State of Louisiana

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Today, 700 Marines stationed at the Marine Reserve Headquarters in New Orleans are ordered to evacuate, according to a Knight Ridder report. [Knight Ridder, 9/11/2005]

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

At least 21 oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of New Orleans will evacuate today. [ONASA (Bosnia-Herzegovina), 8/27/2005]

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Coast Guard Admiral Robert Duncan, head of the Eighth District in New Orleans, deploys cutters, helicopters, and other vessels today, and requests additional forces from the commander of the Coast Guard’s Eastern Area, in Norfolk, Va., which is responsible for everything east of the Mississippi, according to Coast Guard officials. In response to Duncan’s request, Jayhawk rescue helicopters from Coast Guard locations along the Eastern Seaboard take off today. They will follow the hurricane to the Gulf Coast and arrive just behind Katrina. “We don’t have to get approval to execute,” according to Richard J. Dein, a retired Coast Guard commander and a search-and-rescue specialist. “The Coast Guard is organized by geography. All of those districts act autonomously. They each have a command and control center. What you [have is] a ready response network.” [Boston Globe, 9/11/2005 Sources: Richard J. Dein] }

Entity Tags: US Coast Guard, Robert Duncan

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina will damage more than 40 crucial oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico beyond repair, and will inflice extensive damage to at least another 100 rigs. The damage is so extensive, some of the platforms are now lying on the Gulf floor, according to Capt. Frank Paskewich, commander of the US Coast Guard in New Orleans, and weeks from now, the full extent of the damage will remain unclear. [ABC News, 9/19/2005]

Entity Tags: US Coast Guard, Hurricane Katrina

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

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