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http://pesn.com/2005/09/23/9600175_Rebuild_Energy_Systems_Not_NewOrleans/
You are here:
PureEnergySystems.com > News > Sept. 23, 2005

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 solutions instead.

By Paul Noel and Mary-Sue Haliburton
Pure Energy Systems News - Exclusive
Copyright © 2005

President Bush outside New Orlean's French Quarter

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 channel.


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 about.

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 the edge.


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 planet.


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 slide. .

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 event.

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 needed.

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.

# # #


See also

Page posted by Sterling D. Allan Sept. 23, 2005
Last updated October 06, 2005

 

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