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Infeasibility of Rebuilding New Orleans
The river is moving away from the city. The city
is sinking because of its weight, because no upbuilding by new muck for many
decades, because of being cut off from the fresh water, because it is sliding
off a cliff (the Continental Shelf), and because the Oil and Gas Industry is
extracting oil out from under it. It is a city that for all intents and purposes
is now Sea domain. Spend the money on developing alternative energy
Noel and Mary-Sue
Pure Energy Systems News - Exclusive
Copyright © 2005
The President of the United States of America has
announced in a theatrically heroic manner that New Orleans will be rebuilt. At
first blush, what he has proposed seems like a nice idea.
That is the best that can be said of it.
A wise evaluation of the facts tells us that the horrendously expensive project
he has proposed is a fool’s errand. The city is doomed. There is absolutely no
hope for it in the long term. Emotionally pleasing as it may be, rebuilding New
Orleans prophesies an even worse disaster than what we have just seen.
Hurricanes are only a small part of the threats destroying the city.
Historical Compromise Location
To understand the City of New Orleans one must first understand the massive
Mississippi River delta. New Orleans was built at the site of the old “French
Quarter” on the high ground adjacent to the Mississippi river. This location
was picked because the Mississippi River didn’t have a mouth into the ocean.
The river simply went into the “Black Swamp” and disappeared. This was where
ships headed down river had to stop and unload their goods to be transshipped
across Lake Pontchartrain to the sea. This was done by unloading the goods at
the docks and then hauling them to the lake where shallow draft boats would take
the goods to the seagoing ships.
Mississippi River delta. Source: ibiblio
By using some ingenious methods, Henry Shreve -- after
whom Shreveport, La., is named -- forced the river to dig its own channel out to
the sea where it now goes. This allowed the ocean-going boats access to the
enormous Mississippi river. This, together with the work of the US Army Corps of
Engineers, produced what is functionally the largest ocean port on earth. The
Mississippi River is ocean draft in the channel half way to Memphis Tennessee
even at the lowest water times. In normal water times, it is ocean draft depth
all the way to Memphis. No other nation on earth can boast such a treasure. The
value of this port is fantastic on a world scale.
Mississippi River: A Rebellious Monster
Few people understand just how big the Mississippi River Delta is. The delta
begins at Cairo, Illinois. It in times past has seen the big river move east and
west across the delta from what is now the Pearl River in Mississippi to the
Sabine River on the Border of Texas. This river never sits still. It is a
powerful monster that at best can be somewhat handled. Managing it is the
largest existing construction project on the planet.
There was a fatal problem known from the days of Henry Shreve. The Atchafalaya
River has a steep gradient leading into the sea. In the old times, this was a
small leakage stream off of the looping Red River. With the work of Henry Shreve
and the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Red River was opened for navigation to
the Mississippi and inadvertently this opened the Atchafalaya to draw water off
from the Mississippi River, and to begin cutting a larger and wider channel for
itself. Certain to steal the whole Mississippi River in time, this process is
well under way now.
Source: Mississippi/Atchafalaya Project at
Penn State University
During a powerful flood in the late 1950s, the
Mississippi River forced its way into the Atchafalaya River and the main channel
began to go far to the west of New Orleans. With this flood the City of New
Orleans and the ports there were threatened with being cut off from the river.
The US Army Corps of Engineers was tasked with attempting to keep the
Mississippi River controlled and in its old channel. The “Old River Control
Structure” (ORCS) was completed in 1963 to keep 70% of the river in the old
How a Port Becomes a Backwater
This set of dams worked for a while. In 1973 the river threw another enormous
flood and undermined a large section of the ORCS. Since that time the river has
progressively become more and more uncontrolled as the ORCS is further and
further undermined. The status at this time is that another event on the river
will probably cause a large part of the ORCS to disappear without a trace and
the Mississippi River will finish moving west to Morgan City. This is probably
going to happen within the next 20 years or so. It is probably unwise to even
consider trying to stop this event which natural forces are working to bring
The Mississippi River is moving westward. The City of New Orleans will be cut
off from fresh water, and be attached to a silted-in port of no value, attached
to water that doesn’t go anywhere. This is a certainty. The only issue with
this event is when. The event is going to happen shortly. If the events occur as
a result of a flood rather than by deliberately managed processes, the USA may
find that its precious Mississippi River port area is worthless. Even before
Hurricane Katrina, the city was living on borrowed time. Its dance with the
Mississippi River is soon to end.
The swamp in which New Orleans sits can only be supported by a continual influx
of fresh water from the Mississippi River. The US Army Corps of Engineers
damaged this process severely with canals and channels as well as by putting up
dikes. The city is sinking for lack of this water. Mud deposited by floods would
have rebuilt the naturally sinking land. This became painfully apparent when the
city dikes broke.
In fact, as reliably reported in the Hunstville Times on Sunday September 11,
2005, breakage of the levees occurred two days before the arrival of Katrina.
(Ref. ) It
may have been due to seismic activity, the rhythmic pounding of resonant waves
whipped up by hurricanes which precede landfall by up to two days. These
resonant waves reached a solid point and cracked it. It was the new segments,
made of concrete reinforced with steel, which failed.
Thus it could have been human error that flooded New Orleans. In assuming
that rigidity means strength in every circumstance, did engineers fail to
recognize that the whole region is more like jello than strong rock and soil? If
so, the planners didn’t grasp that the barrier would have to flex along with
the soft muck beneath it. Any reinforcing would have to be flexible as well,
such as a fibrous or woven-link Kevlar, or some such material. In such a
location, rigid reinforcing would inevitably result in breakage,
Whatever the reason for the failure, the dikes broke more than 18 hours before
the storm came ashore. The US Army Corps of Engineers and the New Orleans and
Lousiana Authorities all knew there was already serious flooding one day before
the storm. The whole issue was that the bureaucrats argued over who was in
charge and nobody did anything. Officials passed the buck back and forth until
the Big Excuse arrived, both completing the flooding and distracting everyone
from the issue of legal responsibility. If engineering mistakes were involved,
no one in authority would announce them, as no one in charge would want to be
sued for the astronomical level of financial damages, not counting loss of life.
What had been predicted to be 4 to 6 feet of floodwater was nearly 20 feet in
places. The city is sinking faster than anyone believed.
Subsidence Speeding Up
With its dance with the river over, the city of New Orleans will begin to sink
even faster into the ocean. This sinking is not only because of the lack of
water. New Orleans is on a cliff over a mile high, part of the underlying
structure of the continental shelf. Nobody can see the cliff because the ocean
covers it up. New Orleans is a city on the edge of a cliff and it is oozing off
Continental Shelf along Louisiana, Mississippi,
Alabama, Florida coast line
Source: Ocean Fiber
The edge of the cliff may be generally seen on a map
where the river ends. The fall from this point is into the deep abyss. The
taller the city builds the more it will squish the muck that supports it into
the ocean depths. Its very success dooms New Orleans.
Oil and Gas Industry Literally Undermines America
All these factors --the river leaving, the muck sinking, the US Army Corps of
Engineers cutting off the muck supply -- would be enough to doom the city. On
top of these, a newer and more damaging force has arrived on the scene that is
likely to sink most of the State of Louisiana. It also promises to sink parts of
Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama too. Given half a chance it will sink Florida as
well. This is the Oil and Gas industry.
Due to successful planning and market control by this industry, American
appetites for Oil and Gas are enormous. The country needs lots of the stuff, and
the events surrounding Katrina have threatened the supply. For someone to
suggest that this mining be stopped isn’t going to be looked upon lightly. The
USA has been set up to be strangled without its supply of Oil and Gas. From the
Texas “Black Giant” to the Petronius Oil/Gas field in Alabama’s offshore
waters, this isn’t just big business. It is colossal business on a scale that
even astounds those who work in the industry. It is the biggest business on the
Biggest Cost of Oil: Land-Mass Destruction
The dirty secret of the Oil and Gas business is that in order to get it out of
the ground, you have to do things that are messing up the structure of the
planet. When you pump the stuff out, the land subsides. It goes down not only
from the volume of fuel removed, but also from the volume of all of the other
stuff removed as well. A typical oil or gas well will extract 100 to 200 times
more brine than oil or gas. This really sinks land. In California at Oak Hills,
this lowered the land over 70 feet. In Alabama near Tuscaloosa, this has lowered
mountains as much as 20 feet in one year of natural gas extraction operations.
(Ref: Alabama Oil and Gas board website
and the University of Alabama papers on Coal Gas extraction and CO2
sequestration ) The
deeper the recovery site, the more certainly these effects are seen, but over
wider areas involving hundreds of miles.
This is causing the earth to slide. The Norphlet structure which dives below the
surface at Tuscaloosa Alabama and across to about Shreveport, La, and well into
Texas is 50,000 feet down at the lowest end of Petronius. Petronius, 65 miles
south of the opening of Mobile Bay, is an old river delta that is now sliding
into the ocean because of Oil and Gas Extraction. The slide is about 1 foot a
year and accelerating, taking the whole region -- an area of about 100,000
square miles -- into the deep Gulf of Mexico.
This slide has caused the failure of one third of all of the wells drilled in
Alabama in 1988 to 1990 early developments. The industry is very familiar with
this problem although they have not publicized it. There is considerable
directional technology going into drilling wells now to compensate for this
The Oil and Gas operations which are just getting going in the area are also
pumping down the coastal areas at about 1 to 2 feet a year. They are sinking --
never to rise again. So New Orleans is both sinking and sliding -- caused by the
Oil and Gas Industry. By the time this plays out, the New Orleans area will have
sunk some 30 to 60 feet! For a city already several feet below sea level this is
impossible to sustain. The effect of this sinking has already resulted in loss
of the Chandelier Islands, and about 2000 square miles of coastal marshes and
land in the New Orleans area after Katrina’s landfall.
Hurricanes are Seismic Events
It is during Hurricanes that this land loss becomes apparent to the public.
Hurricanes settle the land by seismic effects of their waves together with
washing action. The force of hurricane-driven waves can easily reach seismic
values of a 3.0 on the Richter scale -- repeated every few moments for many
hours. This causes liquefaction, settling, erosion and triggers slides. A
hurricane the size of Katrina is a Geologic event as much as it is a weather
At this time the City of New Orleans is effectively a ringed, sinking island 10
feet or more below sea level, and something close to 20 miles off shore of the
USA. In about 50 years, it will be nearly 60 miles off shore and will be at
least 40 feet below sea level. To keep the city the dikes will have to be so
high as to stagger the imagination and our national budget.
To summarize: The river is leaving the city. The city is sinking because of its
weight, because no upbuilding by new muck for many decades, because of being cut
off from the fresh water, because it is falling off a cliff (the Continental
Shelf), and because the Oil and Gas Industry is sucking it down like a kid
slurping a root beer float.
Rational Alternative to Insanity of Rebuilding
Would any sane person put more money into this failing operation? It is foolish.
This only leaves one question. Is our President just an ignorant fool, or is he
insane? Either prospect is most unsettling.
The logical and much cheaper solution is to use this Hurricane Katrina disaster
as an opportunity.
Here is what should be done.
The Mississippi River should be with all deliberate speed aimed down the
Atchafalaya, and an appropriate new port built in that river mouth, with other
management issues taken into account.
A key challenge will be the seven percent gradient,
which may require construction of locks like those in the Panama Canal to lift
ships to the new level of the river. Another will be to keep silt buildup out of
the shipping channel and direct it to build up the soil in areas where it is
The City of New Orleans should be abandoned to the sea that is going to take it
anyway. The dikes on the river and throughout the city should be deliberately
and completely destroyed to allow buildup of whatever wetlands we can keep for
as long as possible.
The persons displaced should be assimilated into the rest of the USA. This
should be made as painless as possible for all concerned. Give the displaced
people vouchers that are payable for building at any location at least 30 feet
above sea level. Let them find their own locations. This will be far less
complex than the current system of keeping them penned in large buildings, and
much less expensive.
This all requires people to see the colossal problems coming and to confront
them head on. For those who think that the USA has a problem with energy now,
they have no imagination as to what the problem will be when there are
300,000,000 more people in just 35 years.
The solution cannot be to ignore the natural forces of the earth.
It also cannot be to sink the precious country into the sea. Continuing to watch
the oil industry slurp down an area of about 40,000 square miles along the
southern coast of the USA is not an option.
An Emergency Re-Tooling of Our Civilization
The Oil and Gas Industry, still necessary, should be considered a problematic
industry. If the true cost of land subsidence were being factored in to the
price of oil, we would all soon see that it is uneconomic to continue to deplete
this resource at this pace. This, in addition to the problems from accelerated Global
Warming due to greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.
Subsidence due to oil and gas extraction is historically documented and ongoing
damage can be confidently declared to be fact. The damage these guys are doing
is horrid. The price of oil is much higher than just the pump price.
Maybe if we were publicly discussing oil’s true cost – destruction of cities
and whole land areas -- a rational decision will be possible. We as a whole
society would then see that the only viable choice is to get out of the Oil
Economy with all deliberate speed.
As a corollary to that decision, it then becomes urgent to discover and build
new energy generation methods and sources, and to press ahead with retooling our
infrastructure at an emergency pace. Many new principles and technologies have
already been proposed, researched, designed, and in some cases even patented,
but have been held back by lack of funding.
Alternatives must be found -- and funded. The money that this U.S.
Administration plans to waste on “reconstructing” a doomed city should be
redirected promptly into the development of the many technologies and
alternative sources of energy.
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Page posted by Sterling
D. Allan Sept. 23, 2005
Last updated October 06, 2005