Report Highlights Climate Change Risks to Key Gulf Coast Industries

Press Release
June 6, 2012

Contact: Rebecca Matulka, 703-516-4146, matulkar@c2es.org

 

Report Highlights Climate Change Risks to Key Gulf Coast Industries
Recommends Steps to Reduce Impacts on Region’s Energy and Fishing Sectors 

Climate change is already having major impacts on the Gulf Coast region and action is needed to protect its vital industries from the likely impacts of continued warming, according to a new report from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES).

The report, Impacts and Adaptation Options in the Gulf Coast, examines the risks that climate change poses to the region’s energy and fishing industries, and to its residents and local governments. It concludes that climate impacts are already being felt across these sectors, and outlines measures that can be taken to adapt to the growing risks, reducing the region’s vulnerability and the costs associated with future impacts.

The convergence of several geographical characteristics—an unusually flat terrain both offshore and inland, ongoing land subsidence, dwindling wetlands, and fewer barrier islands than along other coasts—make the Gulf Coast region especially vulnerable to climate change. Among the impacts and risks cited in the report:

  • Over the past century, both air and water temperatures have been on the rise across the region;
  • Rising ocean temperatures heighten hurricane intensity, and recent years have seen a number of large, damaging hurricanes;
  • In some Gulf Coast locations, local sea level is increasing at over ten times the global rate, increasing the risk of severe flooding; and
  • Saltwater intrusion from rising sea levels damages wetlands, an important line of coastal defense against storm surge and spawning grounds for commercially valuable fish and shellfish.

“Nowhere else in the U.S. do we see the same convergence of critical energy infrastructure and high vulnerability to climate change,” said C2ES President Eileen Claussen. “These risks are not borne by the Gulf Coast alone. A major energy supply disruption, for instance, would be felt nationwide. We must respond on two fronts: We have to work harder to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. And we must take steps, in the Gulf Coast and elsewhere, to prepare for the impacts that can’t be avoided.”

The report’s lead author is Hal Needham, a researcher at Louisiana State University’s Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program (SCIPP) and an expert on hurricane storm surges in the Gulf Coast. The co-authors are David Brown, an assistant professor in LSU’s Department of Geography and Anthropology, and Lynne Carter, associate director of SCIPP.

In their analysis of the Gulf Coast’s energy industry, which comprises about 90 percent of the region’s industrial assets, the authors found significant risks from hurricanes, sea level rise, rising temperatures and drought. The report noted the considerable damage the energy industry sustained from recent hurricanes in 2004, 2005 and 2008.  Thirty percent of the nation’s refineries are located in Texas and Louisiana, and Louisiana Offshore Oil Port in Port Fourchon is the country’s only deep-water oil import facility. At its current elevation, Louisiana Highway 1, the only access to the port, is projected to be flooded 300 days a year by 2050.

For the region’s other major industry, fishing, the report details major infrastructure risks, especially relating to coastal docking and fish processing. Fish and shellfish populations are also vulnerable to climate impacts, with a combination of warmer water, ocean acidification, and excessive runoff from the Mississippi River combining to increase the risk of large-scale changes in the Gulf ecosystem.

The authors emphasize that advance planning can reduce the region’s vulnerability and the costs incurred from future climate impacts.

For the energy sector, adaptation strategies include learning from recent hurricanes to more rigorously assess vulnerabilities; strengthening design standards for drilling platforms and other infrastructure; and undertaking projects such as the planned raising of sections of Highway 1 to Port Fourchon. To reduce vulnerability in the fishing industry, options include strengthening docking facilities and other infrastructure subject to storm surges, and limiting fertilizer use upstream on the Mississippi River to reduce the incidence of hypoxia (oxygen-starved waters) in the Gulf.

“Climate change is already taking a toll on the Gulf Coast, but if we act now to become more resilient, we can reduce the risks, save billions in future costs, and preserve a way of life,” said Needham. “The Gulf Coast is one of the first regions to feel the impacts of climate change. It only makes sense to be a first mover on climate adaptation as well.”

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About C2ES
The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) is an independent non-profit, non-partisan organization promoting strong policy and action to address the twin challenges of energy and climate change. Launched in November 2011, C2ES is the successor to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, long recognized in the United States and abroad as an influential and pragmatic voice on climate issues. C2ES is led by Eileen Claussen, who previously led the Pew Center and is the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.