Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Recount of Oil Spills from Hurricane Katrina

New analysis of U.S. government data reveals that Hurricane Katrina caused over 200 oil spills:
According to comprehensive research using government incident databases, about 8 million gallons of petroleum releases were reported as a result of Katrina hitting the U.S. Gulf coast in 2005, nearly 75 percent of the total volume of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. The releases were largely due to storage tank failure and the shut down and restart of production processes. Storm surge floods were the primary cause, but some incidents occurred as a result of hurricane and tropical storm strength winds where no surge was present, according to the authors.

The study appears in the April issue of the journal Risk Analysis.

The authors include consultant Nicholas Santella, Laura Steinberg of Syracuse University, and Hatice Sengul of the Turkish Scientific and Technological Research Council. Ten onshore releases of petroleum products were greater than 10,000 gallons each, primarily made up of crude oil that leaked from storage tanks. Fewer and smaller releases were reported from chemical and manufacturing industries handling hazardous materials. Of the releases from onshore facilities and storage tanks, 76 percent were petroleum, 18 percent were chemicals and six percent were natural gas. Many refineries and other facilities shut down in anticipation of large storms to minimize damage and prevent process upsets and are required to do so for safety purposes. However, shutdowns and restarts have the disadvantage of leading to potentially large emissions of volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and other chemicals.
Storms as powerful as Hurricane Katrina are rare, but less intense hurricanes are common in the southeastern U.S. This is why I think states along the Gulf Coast and southern Atlantic seaboard will take a large risk if they permit offshore oil drilling.