Oil and gas investigative journalist Antonia Juhasz says the extent of damage done after Hurricane Ida from the fossil fuel and petrochemical industry from leaks, spills, flaring, ruptures and chemical releases in the Gulf Coast could be among the worst of such events ever recorded. As half a million electricity customers continue to suffer without power, Juhasz also reports New Orleans faces excessively high durations and frequencies of power outages that mostly hit neighborhoods which are majority people of color and low income.
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AMY GOODMAN: Antonia Juhasz, I want to bring you into this conversation, oil and energy investigative journalist, Bertha fellow, whose new article for Rolling Stone is headlined “Hurricane Ida Pounded Louisiana’s ‘Cancer Alley.’ Its Residents Need Help, and Demand Change.”
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Antonia, you tweeted yesterday, “I believe that the extent of damage done from the fossil fuel and petrochemical industry here from leaks, spills, flaring, ruptures, chemicals releases, etc. as a result of #HurricaneIda may be ultimately among the worst of such events ever recorded.”
Put this in context for us, as you head back home to New Orleans, and the significance of Sharon, as an environmental leader, leading the struggle to challenge the fossil fuel industry that contaminates so much of the community that she and others are in.
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yeah, and I want to say good morning to Sharon, especially as another storm is heading her way and our way, and wishing her safety.
So, you know, basically, there’s several compounding problems happening right now. There isn’t power to almost all of Cancer Alley, where Sharon lives. And some of the refineries and petrochemical facilities have power, but, sort of shockingly, a lot of them don’t. And because they don’t, they are releasing horrible flares, black, dirty flares. They’ve been flooded. They’re releasing chemicals. They’re spilling. And they’re not expected to have power for another two weeks. So you have the impacts on the citizens, on Sharon and her community, of not having power, of not having assistance. And then you have this petrochemical and fossil fuel industry that might spend two weeks unable to repair itself, and so you have compounding problems on top of each other. And that’s just the onshore problem.
Offshore, there’s a whole host of drillships, platforms, infrastructure that we know that’s been damaged, but they can’t get out there. So, the Coast Guard has done flyovers, but the companies haven’t gotten out there, so we still don’t know the extent of the damage offshore. And part of that, again, is this power outage problem which is still plaguing the state. That said, we already know of at least 350 reported spills in the Gulf and on land, waters. I think the impacts are going to be, as you read, devastating, continue to be devastating, when it’s all taken into account.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Antonia, can you talk about what has been Marathon’s response after Sharon Lavigne’s video documentation of that September 5th oil spill?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yes. So, Marathon said to me that they noted that the spill had happened at that tank farm with the crude pouring over the edges, but that it hadn’t contaminated air or water. But then I saw that they had actually filed with the State Department, Department of Environmental Quality, that there was impacts to both water and land. So I think the full extent, again, of that damage is yet to be known, because all we have right now is what Sharon is able to see with her eyes and report and what the company is telling us.
And this is a problem throughout the state, because the environmental regulator, the Department of Environmental Quality, is also having problems getting out, but also their air monitoring stations, 15 of them, were out. [inaudible] outage by the refineries, by the petrochemical plants to monitor — that’s just the air quality — aren’t there. So, the access to information is extremely limited also because of the ongoing storm damage just making it difficult to get to areas.
AMY GOODMAN: You even have Shell, Antonia, an offshore oil site, preventing — not picking up 100 of their offshore oil workers on the platform as the storm hit? They were stranded there?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yeah. So, there’s two platforms, one a Shell drillship. Yes, they left 100 workers in the [inaudible] platform, which is entirely [inaudible] because generally evacuating workers from offshore platforms is standard procedure. We know from the videos that these workers were [inaudible] media that the ship took on extensive water. We know that it had to lose some of its equipment into the — onto the ocean floor. They weren’t evacuated. They finally are moving that rig off to Mississippi. They’ve been out on the water since the storm. And that’s only one of Shell’s platforms.
Another one, one of their facilities that takes on 200,000 barrels of oil a day and — natural gas a day — it’s a transit hub — has also been damaged during the storm. And we don’t know the extent of the damage. There’s oil sheens in the water from another drillship. The commodities markets are already reporting that this is the worst harm to the oil sector in the Gulf Coast since at least 2005 with the combination of Katrina and Rita. And I think, again, that’s a sign that what we’re going to start seeing is, because of the extent of the period of damage, not having electricity, the winds, the high winds, that we’re going to see more and more evidence of extensive spills, releases, ruptures, damages, onshore, offshore, which we’re already seeing.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Sharon, I’d like to ask you: Those who argue that the petrochemical industry is vital to jobs in Louisiana, what’s your response to them, especially after crises like this?
SHARON LAVIGNE: Our response is: What’s more important? A human life or jobs? It’s not that we are against industry; against industry that’s trying to harm us, take our health and take our lives. We want to live. We want to breathe clean air. These industries are not allowing us to breathe clean air or drink clean water.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Antonia, Entergy. I remember seeing all the Entergy vans after Hurricane Katrina. Now a million customers lost power after Ida, still hundreds of thousands in darkness, no electricity. The private company and what should be done about it?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yeah. So, only about 50% of Louisiana that lost power has had its power restored. All of the lower-lying areas, where Sharon is located, the southeast of the state, are almost still without power and are expected to be for two weeks. You know, basically, what folks are talking about here is that the problem with Entergy is that it is a highly centralized, fossil fuel-intensive electricity company — coal, natural gas, in particular, are its baselines — and that what needs to happen is a decentralized, community-based renewable energy system, where you’ve got power provided closer to the — and in control of — the consumer, that it can be separated out, so if you lose power up here, you still have power everywhere else, and that power is helping to mitigate the climate crisis, not contribute to it through coal, natural gas.
AMY GOODMAN: An Alliance for Affordable Energy analysis compared New Orleans to the nation and Louisiana as a whole and found the city not only has excessively high durations and frequency of power outages, but that they’re also unequal. Gentilly, New Orleans East, Lower Ninth Ward, neighborhoods which are majority people of color and low income, experience the greatest proportion of outages, demonstrating a clear form of environmental racism. The analysis says New Orleans also has the second-highest percentage of household income spent on energy bills in the country. That, reading from Antonia’s National Geographic article.
We want to thank you both for being with us. We’ll continue to report on what’s happened in the Gulf. Antonia Juhasz, oil and energy investigative journalist. Sharon Lavigne, founder and director of RISE St. James in Louisiana, recipient of the 2021 Goldman Environmental Prize, known as the “Green Nobel Peace Prize.” Sharon, stay safe. And good luck, Antonia, as you head back home to New Orleans.
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