We hear a lot about the harmful environmental damage from oil spills but the environmental consequences of releases of natural gas into the marine environment can be just as severe. This is especially true when they occur in shallow water like the bayous and bays throughout south Louisiana. As the photos we have been gathering show (see slideshow below), many of the gas pipelines are in such disrepair that leaks are inevitable including the one we discovered last Fall in Bayou Perot near the town of Lafitte, Louisiana. (See short video clip below). These kind of ruptures are far too common, unfortunately, and not enough is being done to protect our fisheries.
Once gas is released in water, instead of simply evaporating it dissolves in the water and is highly toxic to marine life. When fish are exposed the gas rapidly penetrates their bodies causing all sorts of problems including damage to gills, skin, and eyes, among others. Depending on the length of exposure, the fish will suffer from chronic poisoning and eventually perish.
The risks posed by thousands of miles of aging, corroded pipeline throughout our wetlands have long been ignored by environmental regulators and politicians alike. This has created countless ticking time bombs. As wetlands erode and turn to open water, pipelines are at an increased risk of being struck by passing vessels, damage from storms, and salt water corrosion.
About 26,420 miles of onshore oil and natural gas pipelines lie between Mobile, Alabama, and Galveston Texas, and they all pass through Louisiana’s wetlands. Most of these lines were built when there was more land to protect them.
There is no telling how long the Bayou Perot submerged gas pipeline was leaking before we discovered it and reported it to the National Response Center, kicking off an investigation and ultimately stopping the flow. We do know, however, that as these pipelines continue to age, more protective soil erodes away, and the industry and agencies charged with protecting the environment continue to struggle to do so, we can expect to see more of the same for the foreseeable future. Especially, with the height of hurricane season just around the corner.
Jonathan Henderson is the Founding President of Vanishing Earth.