Oil Artery Clog Could Impact U.S.

Vital Roadway Threatened

So much to worry about, so little time.

Here’s a whole other reason to toss and turn at night:

Eighteen percent of the entire nation’s energy supply depends on a deteriorating, narrow two-lane road surrounded by water in South Louisiana.

This is the southernmost stretch of Louisiana Highway 1, providing the only land-based access to Port Fourchon, which supports 75 percent of all the deepwater oil and gas production in the Gulf, according to the LA 1 Coalition, comprised of private and public stakeholders intent on saving and improving the roadway.

The Port also is the site of the booster pumps that carry crude oil from the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) to underground salt dome storage areas in Galliano, along Highway 1.

Even on a good day, water laps close to the edges of this vital strip of concrete roadway, which not so long ago was surrounded by marshland. Besides its crucial role in the country’s energy supply, the highway serves as the hurricane evacuation route for residents in southern Lafourche Parish and Grand Isle, as well as 6,000 offshore oil and gas employees.

Image Caption

Photo courtesy Port Fourchon

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So much to worry about, so little time.

Here’s a whole other reason to toss and turn at night:

Eighteen percent of the entire nation’s energy supply depends on a deteriorating, narrow two-lane road surrounded by water in South Louisiana.

This is the southernmost stretch of Louisiana Highway 1, providing the only land-based access to Port Fourchon, which supports 75 percent of all the deepwater oil and gas production in the Gulf, according to the LA 1 Coalition, comprised of private and public stakeholders intent on saving and improving the roadway.

The Port also is the site of the booster pumps that carry crude oil from the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) to underground salt dome storage areas in Galliano, along Highway 1.

Even on a good day, water laps close to the edges of this vital strip of concrete roadway, which not so long ago was surrounded by marshland. Besides its crucial role in the country’s energy supply, the highway serves as the hurricane evacuation route for residents in southern Lafourche Parish and Grand Isle, as well as 6,000 offshore oil and gas employees.

Today, it’s a sitting target for the next big hurricane, which can strike at any time during the annual June 1 to November 30 season.

"We’re kind of the poster child for the infrastructure component of what’s at stake in the coastal land loss issue," said Ted Falgout, director of Port Fourchon. "Our vulnerability to storms has increased tremendously because of the land loss, and the threat to Louisiana 1 is increasing daily.

"It’s since Hurricane Betsy in ’65 since we had a real large storm with the kind of worse case scenario," he said, "where it was to the west and we took the full brunt of the northeast quadrant.

"But it doesn’t take a big storm anymore," Falgout noted. "When Hurricane Bill, which was just a strong thunderstorm, came through recently, our entire roadway was under water."

More than 10,000 vehicles traverse this highway daily going to and from Port Fourchon. A thousand of these are cargo trucks, delivering material to go to the OCS, according to Falgout.

"Port Fourchon is the support base that provides all the widgets and gadgets and things needed to run the offshore oil fields," he said. "Sticking out into the Gulf as we do presents a huge economic advantage for oil and gas operations there.

"The Port has the latest technology and equipment," he added, "and if we lost it, the companies would operate at a huge inefficiency for a long time until the facilities could be reproduced, which wouldn’t happen overnight."

A Vital Operation

A shut-down has the potential to send shock waves through the national economy.

Some analysts predict lost access to Port Fourchon could choke the nation’s energy supply, sending gasoline prices to $3/gallon. The EIA has said if the Port were to shut down for two weeks or more, gasoline would top $2/gallon.

The Louisiana offshore petroleum industry pumps $5 billion a year into the federal coffers, yet no cost sharing mechanisms are in place to mitigate the impacts this activity has on infrastructure and the environment of the coastal areas that furnish the crucial land-side support services.

"We in Louisiana are proud to be in the oil and gas business, and we do it with little fanfare," Falgout said. "It’s part of the fabric of who we are, but it’s impossible to continue at this level of activity without some type of revenue sharing."

Legislation to rectify this situation via "fair share" offshore revenue sharing was included in the energy bill being drafted earlier this year in Washington ([PFItemLinkShortcode|id:46971|type:standard|anchorText:see related story|cssClass:|title:|PFItemLinkShortcode]).

Should this legislation be enacted, it is anticipated that some percentage of Louisiana’s fair share would go into a special money pot dedicated to infrastructure because the $14 billion the state intends to request from Congress for coastal restoration programs cannot be tapped for these needs. Instead, those funds will be used solely to achieve a sustainable coastline, which will be 17 miles north of the Port, Falgout noted.

Some of these restoration projects, such as barrier island stabilization, will play a role in helping to save the Port itself. In fact, it can be saved rather cost effectively because it has a source of sediment and sand and can exist as an island, Falgout noted.

Thus far, more than $11 million has been amassed from various sources for Highway 1 needs. A part of these funds went toward the now-completed environmental impact statement for a half-billion-dollar elevated four-lane highway, which more than likely will be a toll road. An effort is under way to acquire a federal loan to start construction in late 2004 on the $100 million Leeville bridge, which is the weakest link between Port Fourchon and Highway 90 to the north.

"I like to say we ought to have a world-class highway, and we do," Falgout said. "It’s just that it’s a third-world-class highway.

"At the end of the day, our port plays a key role in somewhere between 16 and 18 percent of the entire nation’s hydrocarbon supply," he noted. "That’s huge; that’s foreign and domestic.

"There’s no other dot on the map more significant to the nation’s energy supply."