Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, my name is Roy Francis, and I am the Executive Director of the LA1 Coalition, Inc. The Coalition is a non-profit organization created in 1997, by community leaders with one goal – improve the infrastructure servicing Port Fourchon, Louisiana. The founding members realized the threat to this critical energy infrastructure due to coastal land loss.
I have worked in coastal zone management, flood protection and coastal infrastructure since I obtained my degree in geology in 1992. I feel I have come to understand the ripple effect of coastal land loss to infrastructure and the industries associated with oil and gas production. Coastal land loss is not only threatening our environment, but our very existence as a community.
One of the greatest threats to infrastructure is to Louisiana Highway One, a two-lane winding road that is the only means of land access to Port Fourchon, which currently services approximately 16% of this nations energy supply. LA1 is only three feet above sea-level and is subject to 8 to 10 foot storm surges. The highway provides access for 6,000 offshore workers and their equipment to support 75% of federal OCS activities in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Leeville Bridge, the weakest link of LA1, was built in 10 feet of water. It now exists in 40 feet of water. It is the most scoured bridge in the state due to the water exchange between the Barateria and Terrebonne basins. All the land that surrounded the bridge has disappeared.
There is now a real threat to the oil and gas structures built on land that is no more. Hundreds of structures producing energy everyday and thousands of miles of pipeline buried underground are now exposed in open water. The pipelines are threatened by wave energy and impact from marine vessels everyday.
One of the major oil and gas companies that operates at Port Fourchon, transports over 600,000 barrels of oil through pipelines in coastal Louisiana. They spend nearly $5 million per year reacting to coastal erosion; repairing bulkheads, relocating pipelines and marking pipeline crossings. Another company’s main offshore support base is in Leeville, an area that has sank 14 inches in the last 20 years.
Not only is the country’s domestic supply threatened, but 13% of this nation’s imported crude oil is offloaded at Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) located in the coastal area of Lafourche Parish. The 48 inch pipelines are connected to 35% of United States’ refinery capacity. Remember, a refinery has not been built in this country in decades and today are operating at 96% capacity.
The impact to LA1 affects more then the nation’s energy production. This highway was built on the Bayou Lafourche Ridge and is the now the dividing line between the nation’s two most productive estuaries – the Barataria and the Terrebonne basins. About 20% of the state’s total catch goes to market by way of LA1 – in a State that leads the lower 48 in fisheries production. The loss of these wetlands is a loss to fisheries production.
Another impact is to our water supply. In 2000, saltwater intruded into Lafourche Parish’s water pumping system 50 miles inland via a channel in a neighboring parish. For the first time, the people of South Louisiana had a taste of coastal land loss. The paper mill had to shut down, and the oil and gas industry which uses over 20% of the parish’s water supply for drilling activities was affected. We couldn’t drink the water, and the children bathed in saltwater. All of this could have been avoided with a lock/floodgate on this channel.
Our flood protection levee systems are also at risk. Historically, the marshes would act as buffers for wave energy against the base of the levees. Today, open water surrounds parts of the levees, and daily wave action is eroding the earthen ring levees. The flood gates on the levees have to be closed earlier and more often, trapping marine vessels outside of levee systems.
The Louisiana coast is a blue collar coast. It is not a place we visit. It is the place were we live, work and play. It is no longer just about the birds and the plants. Coastal land loss is now affecting every aspect of our lives.