Hurricanes Rita and Katrina spilled almost as much oil as the Exxon Valdez

Yep,  you heard that talking points from all drill-drill-drill enthusiasts, including John McCain and Mitch McConnell, that ‘not a drop’ of oil was spilled during the Hurricane Rita and Katrina disasters.

What a load of horse-pucky!

Of course what got spilled wasn’t just a drop — it was more like 9 million gallons, which almost reaches the record set by the Exxon Valdez disaster when 10.8 million gallons of oil were spilled in the pristine coastal waters of Prince William Sound in Alaska.  But the Katrina/Rita spills didn’t come from one big source, like a leaking supertanker.  The Katrina/Rita spills came from multiple sources and were spread over the entire Gulf coastal region, impacting not only wildlife but also homes, businesses and schools.

There were a total of 595 spills throughout the Gulf region.  In fact, according to the Houston Chronicle in 2005

The quantity and cumulative magnitude of the 595 spills, which were spread across four states and struck offshore and inland, rank these two hurricanes among the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.

How can that be, one might ask — the Bush administration said there was no more than a “light oil sheening” — and the media simply reported that dismissive statement as fact.  However, the real facts about the devastating spills came out in a report from the U.S. Minerals Management Service that was summarized on ThinkProgress:

In fact, the clear satellite evidence of major spills was borne out by final reports. In May 2006, the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) published their offshore damage assessment: “113 platforms totally destroyed, and 457 pipelines damaged, 101 of those major lines with 10″ or larger diameter.”

Pipeline Damage
Pipeline damage from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (MMS 2007). Click to enlarge.

Unsurprisingly, this devastation caused significant spillage, according to the official report prepared for the MMS by a Norwegian firm:

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Caused 124 Offshore Spills For A Total Of 743,700 Gallons. 554,400 gallons were crude oil and condensate from platforms, rigs and pipelines, and 189,000 gallons were refined products from platforms and rigs. [MMS, 1/22/07]

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Caused Six Offshore Spills Of 42,000 Gallons Or Greater. The largest of these was 152,250 gallons, well over the 100,000 gallon threshhold considered a “major spill.” [MMS, 5/1/06]

In addition, the hurricanes caused disastrous spills onshore throughout southeast Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf Coast as tanks, pipelines, refineries and other industrial facilities were destroyed, for a total of 595 different oil spills.

This is a dirty little secret that the Bush administration is trying to hide as it hypes the need for offshore drilling as a way to counter rising gas prices, even though any oil found would not be available for 10-20 years.

The Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969 is another indicator of what can happen to popular beaches when disaster strikes.  When most of us think of oil spills we may relate it to the oil we put in our cars, a thin pourable liquid.  But unrefined crude oil is different, clumping in thick, tarlike globules.  Even after the Santa Barbara spill was cleaned up there continued to be “natural seepage” from the offshore oil deposits, making it necessary for surfers at nearby Goleta to keep gasoline handy to remove the tarlike residue from their feet.

As a resident of a coastal state I don’t want to see our publicly owned beaches covered with toxic gunk from offshore drilling.  I don’t want to see the feathers of pelicans and petrels covered with black goo so that the big oil companies can make another obscene profit.

The Danes are choosing to develop wind farms off their coast, becoming the world leader in the use of this technology.  Why are we talking about drilling for non-renewable oil when we should be talking about renewables like wind, hydro and solar?  Why is the conversation about energy stuck in the past with a focus on oil?  Why not focus on conservation also?

Is it because these other options do not insure obscene profits for Big Oil?

Technical references for those who want to delve deeper:

Technical report on oilspills from Katrina and Rita tarprojects/ 581/ 44814183_MMS_Katrina_Rita_PL_Final%20Report%20Rev1.pdf

Update report on drilling platform damage after Katrina and Rita
May 2006

Explore posts in the same categories: energy policy, environment, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, oil spills in the Gulf

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2 Comments on “Hurricanes Rita and Katrina spilled almost as much oil as the Exxon Valdez”

  1. Evan Says:

    Glad to see others exposing this.

    Keep up the good work

    Evan @ Break The Terror

  2. the oil spill in mexico really affected the eco system around that area, it would take years to clean those mess :

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