U.S. electric power plants, oil refineries and natural gas installations are at increased risk from flooding as a result of rising sea levels in coming decades, according to a new report from the climate research group Climate Central.
In a report presented to Congress on April 19, the research group identified 287 energy facilities in 22 coastal states that are located less than four feet above the high-tide line where flooding becomes increasingly likely with global sea-level rise.
More than half the plants are in Louisiana, and most of those are natural-gas facilities. Florida, California and New York each have between 10 and 30 exposed sites, mainly for electricity, while Texas and New Jersey have a concentration of oil and gas facilities that would be flooded, the report said.
Overall, there are 130 natural gas, 96 electric and 56 oil and gas plants built less than four feet below the high-tide line, according to the study. Including plants that are located below the five-foot line, the total rises to 328.
The chances of extreme flooding at 55 water-level stations around the country doubles with climate change, the report said. It estimated the median odds for flooding reaching at least four feet above high-tides are 55 percent by 2030. Including plants above the five-foot line, the median odds of floods reaching that level by 2050 are 41 percent, the report said.
The forecast doesn’t account for locations where sea walls or levees protect energy facilities. But it warns that plants built on land that is below the new, higher sea levels could be at increased flooding risk from rainfall because drainage would be impeded.
The Pace of Melting Could Increase
Sea-level rise caused by warming ocean temperatures and melting polar ice caps is expected to accelerate this century with an increase in the emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. By 2100, oceans are forecast to rise 20 to 80 inches from current levels, the report said.
“The risks from sea-level rise are imminent and serious,” Dr. Ben Strauss, one of the authors of the report, told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “This is not a distant problem only of concern for our children. Escalating floods from sea level rise will affect millions of Americans, and threaten countless billions of dollars of damage to buildings and infrastructure.”
In addition to flooding, rising seas will also increase the demand for power, desalinization, pumping and draining flooded areas, and for air conditioning in response to higher temperatures, said Dr. Leonard Berry, co-director of the Climate Change Initiative at Florida Atlantic University, speaking at the Senate hearing.
“The risks from sea-level rise are imminent and serious,”
Increasing power consumption in low-lying areas like Florida can’t be supplied by existing grid infrastructure or current installed capacity, so future power requirements may need to be met by renewable resources such as solar, biomass or harnessing Gulf Stream currents, he said.
Dr. Waleed Abdalati, chief scientist for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, told the panel that global sea levels have risen 3.1 millimeters a year for the last 30 years, and could rise another 0.2 – 2 meters by the end of the 21st century.
“The consequences of a one-meter rise in sea level by the end of this century would be very significant in terms of human well-being and economics, and potentially global socio-political stability,” he said.