Ground Zero from BP spill reportedly getting another 5M barrels of crude — from a risky tank farm


You have to say this: Big Oil has nerve. That is, it certainly takes nerve to ship, store and handle massive quantities of oil and gas in a region of Louisiana that is prone to hurricanes and tropical storms, to almost Biblical levels of flooding and which has already been battered by oil spills and other forms of pollution.

The region in question is Plaquemines Parish, the incredibly precious but environmentally fragile, swampy lands that line the banks of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. The roughly 23,000 souls who live there are hearty people — fisherman, boat captains, blue collar workers and their families — who’ve endured quite a lot on the last decade,

And not all of that is the fault of Mother Nature. Plaquemines Parish was the closest inhabited land to the 2010 BP oil spill. Many of the clean-up workers — people who breathed in or came in contact with some of the oil that spewed forth because of BP’s recklessness — came from the parish; even those who stayed home breathed in toxic volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, from the massive spill. Clearly they don’t want to go through that again.

Plaquemines is also hurricane alley — the first destination for killer storms blowing their way up the main bad-weather pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico. The parish was devastated by Katrina, and other storms have taken a toll. Last year, Hurricane Isaac surged into the Stolthaven New Orleans Chemical Storage facility, which a) caused a leak of 191,000 gallons of toxic chemicals and b) was totally botched by the overmatched Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, which failed to properly monitor the spill or keep residents informed. The incident weighs heavily on the minds of Plaquemines residents a year later.

That is why some citizens there are going to court to fight a new facility in the works for Plaquemines, a massive tank farm on the banks of the Mississippi called the NOLA Oil terminal. The company claims on its website that the facility, at capacity, will hold 5 million barrels of crude — the exact amount of oil that was spilled after Deepwater Horizon. That is a huge number — frankly I was a little dubious when I heard it — but clearly there’s a lot at stake here:

BELLE CHASSE, La. (CN) – Residents sued Plaquemines Parish, Ground Zero of the BP oil disaster, claiming the parish’s approval of a building permit for a 5 million [barrel] oil terminal on the Mississippi River is another catastrophe waiting to happen.

The proposed NOLA Oil terminal is to be a 5 million barrel, heavy oil blending and storage facility, built on 152 acres of floodplains along the Mississippi River.

The facility backs up against a residential neighborhood:

The lawsuit in Plaquemines Parish Court claims the council’s action “violates the local zoning laws of Plaquemines Parish and poses a threat to plaintiffs’ property and to others in the area, particularly during hurricane season.”

The terminal site is next to Myrtle Grove Marina Estates, a residential and recreational waterfront community, and is close to at least two other residential communities, the lawsuit states. “Further, the proposed oil storage terminal is to be located in an area of the Parish of Plaquemines that sees substantial flooding and debris during tropical events throughout the course of hurricane season.”

As the piece notes, the 80 oil and chemical storage facilities now operating in Louisiana don’t have hurricane evacuation plans. During the Stolthaven incident in 2012, some roads were closed because of the spill — making evacuation even more difficult for citizens. And here’s the thing: The NOLA Oil facility is just the tip of a massive iceberg headed toward Louisiana — a big increase in both oil and gas storage and in transportation, by rail, by barge, and by pipeline. This is a consequence of the huge surge in North American oil and gas production since the late 2010s, including the exploitation of Canadian tar sands.

There’s two important points here. First, Louisiana needs to step up its game; any new proposals should go through a rigorous environmental approval process, and citizens deserve better regulation, if not from the clueless DEQ than then state should step aside and let the federal Environmental Protection Agency move in. Second, the last five years were supposed to bring a move toward renewable energy — not a new American oil rush and all the risky projects that come with it. We need to re-think our approach — before the Mississippi is lined with new Deepwater Horizons waiting to happen.

Read my Sept. 14, 2012, post about the Stolthaven chemical spill at:

To read more about the proposed NOLA Oil facility in Plaquemines Parish:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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