river runs ... over it?
The Leeville Bridge,
isolated by rising waters.
So much to worry about, so little time.
Here’s a whole other reason to toss and turn at night:
Eighteen percent of the entire nation’s energy supply
depends on a deteriorating, narrow two-lane road surrounded by water
in South Louisiana.
This is the southernmost stretch of Louisiana Highway
1, providing the only land-based access to Port Fourchon, which
supports 75 percent of all the deepwater oil and gas production
in the Gulf, according to the LA 1 Coalition, comprised of private
and public stakeholders intent on saving and improving the roadway.
The Port also is the site of the booster pumps that
carry crude oil from the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) to underground
salt dome storage areas in Galliano, along Highway 1.
on a good day, water laps close to the edges of this vital strip
of concrete roadway, which not so long ago was surrounded by marshland.
Besides its crucial role in the country’s energy supply, the highway
serves as the hurricane evacuation route for residents in southern
Lafourche Parish and Grand Isle, as well as 6,000 offshore oil and
Today, it’s a sitting target for the next big hurricane,
which can strike at any time during the annual June 1 to November
"We’re kind of the poster child for the infrastructure
component of what’s at stake in the coastal land loss issue," said
Ted Falgout, director of Port Fourchon. "Our vulnerability to storms
has increased tremendously because of the land loss, and the threat
to Louisiana 1 is increasing daily.
"It’s since Hurricane Betsy in ’65 since we had a
real large storm with the kind of worse case scenario," he said,
"where it was to the west and we took the full brunt of the northeast
"But it doesn’t take a big storm anymore," Falgout
noted. "When Hurricane Bill, which was just a strong thunderstorm,
came through recently, our entire roadway was under water."
More than 10,000 vehicles traverse this highway daily
going to and from Port Fourchon. A thousand of these are cargo trucks,
delivering material to go to the OCS, according to Falgout.
"Port Fourchon is the support base that provides
all the widgets and gadgets and things needed to run the offshore
oil fields," he said. "Sticking out into the Gulf as we do presents
a huge economic advantage for oil and gas operations there.
"The Port has the latest technology and equipment,"
he added, "and if we lost it, the companies would operate at a huge
inefficiency for a long time until the facilities could be reproduced,
which wouldn’t happen overnight."
A Vital Operation
A shut-down has the potential to send shock waves
through the national economy.
Some analysts predict lost access to Port Fourchon
could choke the nation’s energy supply, sending gasoline prices
to $3/gallon. The EIA has said if the Port were to shut down for
two weeks or more, gasoline would top $2/gallon.
The Louisiana offshore petroleum industry pumps $5
billion a year into the federal coffers, yet no cost sharing mechanisms
are in place to mitigate the impacts this activity has on infrastructure
and the environment of the coastal areas that furnish the crucial
land-side support services.
"We in Louisiana are proud to be in the oil and gas
business, and we do it with little fanfare," Falgout said. "It’s
part of the fabric of who we are, but it’s impossible to continue
at this level of activity without some type of revenue sharing."
Legislation to rectify this situation via "fair share"
offshore revenue sharing was included in the energy bill being drafted
earlier this year in Washington (see
Should this legislation be enacted, it is anticipated
that some percentage of Louisiana’s fair share would go into a special
money pot dedicated to infrastructure because the $14 billion the
state intends to request from Congress for coastal restoration programs
cannot be tapped for these needs. Instead, those funds will be used
solely to achieve a sustainable coastline, which will be 17 miles
north of the Port, Falgout noted.
Some of these restoration projects, such as barrier
island stabilization, will play a role in helping to save the Port
itself. In fact, it can be saved rather cost effectively because
it has a source of sediment and sand and can exist as an island,
Thus far, more than $11 million has been amassed
from various sources for Highway 1 needs. A part of these funds
went toward the now-completed environmental impact statement for
a half-billion-dollar elevated four-lane highway, which more than
likely will be a toll road. An effort is under way to acquire a
federal loan to start construction in late 2004 on the $100 million
Leeville bridge, which is the weakest link between Port Fourchon
and Highway 90 to the north.
"I like to say we ought to have a world-class highway,
and we do," Falgout said. "It’s just that it’s a third-world-class
"At the end of the day, our port plays a key role
in somewhere between 16 and 18 percent of the entire nation’s hydrocarbon
supply," he noted. "That’s huge; that’s foreign and domestic.
"There’s no other dot on the map more significant
to the nation’s energy supply."