Following on the heels of Hurricane Florence, Hurricane Michael hit already vulnerable communities throughout the Southeast in the midst of ongoing recovery efforts, a stark reminder that extreme weather events have become all too common for our coast. Many state and local governments are working to better prepare for and protect against hurricanes, yet the Trump administration continues its push to open our coast to offshore oil and gas drilling for the first time—which would add significant new risk every time a hurricane or major storm hits.
SELC has released a new report documenting the ways hurricanes could become even more damaging and devastating for local communities when combined with offshore drilling operations. In assessing the likely impacts of offshore drilling in the Southeast, the report examines the damage to oil and gas infrastructure and the devastating consequences for Gulf Coast communities in the wake of hurricanes, as well as research on intensifying hurricane patterns in the Atlantic.
“For decades, hurricanes have wreaked havoc on oil and gas infrastructure, causing catastrophic spills and long-lasting damage to communities, many of which are still recovering years later,” said Sierra Weaver, leader of SELC’s coast and wetlands program. “Gulf of Mexico communities know all too well what happens when offshore drilling infrastructure is placed in the path of major storms and hurricanes. At a time when many Southeast communities have significant concerns about flooding and storm damage, offshore drilling is the last thing we should be considering.”
The report documents the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which hit in 2005. The two hurricanes destroyed 115 offshore drilling platforms and damaged a total of 558 pipelines – spilling nearly 11 million gallons of oil into the Gulf. And the report finds that the industry and the government have both recognized this problem and warned against developing new infrastructure in hurricane-prone regions.
A review of the industry’s poor safety record in the Gulf reveals details of spills that persist even a decade later.
While Hurricane Michael appears to have mostly avoided areas where oil and gas infrastructure is situated, events like the Taylor Energy spill—on track to become the worst spill in U.S. history, continuously leaking more than 10,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf every day since Hurricane Ivan hit in 2004—show just how much is at stake when it comes to the dangerous mix of hurricanes and drilling infrastructure.
With extreme weather intensifying in the Southeast, the report concludes that drilling is likely to cause long-lasting and devastating damage to the region, jeopardizing key industries like tourism, threatening thousands of jobs, and bringing new health and environmental risks to the region.
This, along with evidence showing offshore drilling would threaten the Southeast’s economy, environment, and health, is why more than 190 Atlantic Coast communities have passed resolutions opposing oil and gas exploration off their shores.
Considering the Trump administration is expected to release an updated proposed leasing plan in the coming months, one thing is clear from the report’s findings: hurricanes and drilling don’t mix.