Risks Concern Louisiana Ports

Monday, May 08, 2006
Port Fourchon may be a tiny spot on the Louisiana coast, but it looms large as a place that could harm the nation's energy supply for weeks or months, the Louisiana Ledger reported. The port is located at the end of a spit of land on the edge of Louisiana, wide open to waves, tides and storm surge. It is connected to the mainland by a two-lane ribbon of a highway lands. A major bridge on that highway is so old and its base so scoured that a good hit from a large ship could knock it out of commission. The port is home of a multitude of oil and gas support services that keep as much as 90 percent of the Gulf of Mexico's deepwater oil and gas wells running, along with 50 percent of the wells closer to shore. Additionally, pipelines from the Louisiana Offshore Oil Platform, which supply the nation with 13 percent of its oil, run through the port. Other pipelines also traverse the port, and connect LOOP and offshore rigs with 50 percent of the nation's refining capacity. In other words, Port Fourchon is vital to the nation's supply of oil and gas. The port took a relatively small blow from both Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But the two storms severely hit Louisiana energy ports in Venice and Cameron, forcing service companies there to relocate to Port Fourchon. Demand for port facilities has risen even more since Katrina and Rita. Companies are looking to relocate from Venice to Fourchon so they could service their clients. But by far the biggest threat to Port Fourchon is the road leading to it. Most of Louisiana 1 is a two-lane road in the middle of mostly open water. In places, the road is only 1 foot above sea level. About two to three times a year, the road is covered with water because of a tropical storm. Even a minor wreck on the highway can tie up the road for hours, slowing trucks going to the port taking supplies to the boats. About 1,000 trucks go in and out of the port each day, and traffic is expected to increase by 60 percent by 2010. The storms' damage to wetlands surrounding the highway also puts the port at greater risk now. This month, work has begun on a small, but critical, section of the highway as contractors begin building a bridge to replace the Leeville lift bridge. Because of strong currents that go under the bridge, its base has been scoured away, reducing its stability . The bridge is hit repeatedly by boats going under it, and if a boat were to smash the rail protecting the bridge's base, it could knock the bridge permanently out of commission. The $350 million project is expected to take until 2009. (Source: Louisiana Ledger)
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