Oil and coal on the Mississippi Delta


October 24, 2010

Yesterday the Arctic Sunrise headed up the Mississippi River toward New Orleans, and along the way our team documented a mile long stretch of oil on the ocean surface just west of the Mississippi Delta.

Oil in the Gulf six months later

This comes more than six months after the beginning of the oil disaster when the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.  Already, millions of migratory birds are beginning to return for the winter to the Gulf Coast’s wetlands, and coastal ecologists are concerned about the oil’s continued impacts to them and other wildlife.

The Mississippi Delta is an extraordinary place, with vibrant wetlands that support those migratory birds and countless other species.  It is also scarred with fossil fuel infrastructure and impacts, offering a glimpse of the costs of our reliance on oil and coal.

Arctic Sunrise passes oil refinery on Mississippi River

A major oil refinery we passed processes crude oil from offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as from the Louisiana Offshore Oil Platform, a major terminal miles out at sea that brings super tankers of foreign crude into the United States.  Just a few miles away, we passed a coal exporting terminal that can hold more than a million tons of coal mined in the United States as it awaits shipping to foreign countries.

Arctic Sunrise passes coal terminal on Mississippi River

These two facilities on this river delta provide a window into a challenge that we all have a stake in.  Coal and oil companies are sending one form of destructive fossil fuels abroad while importing another from around the world, and all on a delicate ecosystem that is suffering the latest instance of the disproportionate harm it bears from our reliance on dirty and dangerous sources of energy. All around the world, the communities in which coal and oil are mined and drilled suffer most.  And wherever they are burned, people and ecosystems are left with poisoned air and water.  Of course, burning those fossil fuels also drives climate change and the threat it poses to vulnerable coastal cities like here in New Orleans, just as it does to communities around the planet.  It’s a reminder that the challenge of breaking our reliance on coal and oil is as global as the damage done by those fossil fuels.


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