Texas Gulf Coast Cleans Up After Hurricane Ike

Petrochemical facilities are shown after Hurricane Ike made landfall September 13, 2008 in Galveston, Texas. Ike caused extensive damage along the Texas Gold Coast, leaving millions without power.

The energy industry has the opportunity to become a leader rather than a laggard on climate change risk analysis by embracing the evaluation of risks and applying its significant financial and management resources to the improvement of climate resiliency.

A new National Climate Assessment is set for release in late April 2014, and one of the authors of that Congressionally-mandated overview of climate related issues is calling for a continuous effort at risk assessment matched by highlighting of innovative solutions to increasingly pressing impacts of climate change events. “We’re learning more and more about the challenges,” lead author of both the Oak Ridge Laboratory reports “Climate Change and Energy Supply and Use” and “Climate Change and Infrastructure, Urban Systems and Vulnerabilities” Dr. Thomas Wilbanks said in a recent conversation ahead of the release of the NCA, for which he also co-authored chapters. Wilbanks is Research Fellow at Oak Ridge Laboratory, which prepared the reports for the US Department of Energy.

Previous releases of the NCA have had none of the impact of the major weather events widely linked to climate changes in prompting change, with Hurricane Sandy’s flooding and lengthy associated blackout one of a number of extreme weather events that has focused minds in both the regulatory community and industry ahead of this year’s NCA.

The energy industry’s thinking on climate change has also shifted since the last time the NCA was submitted to Congress, Wilbanks noted. “The thing that’s changed in the energy sector is the acceptance that – while the industry believes the origins of climate change are debatable and that what should be done to diminish them are also up for question – energy companies have accepted that climate impacts are real and that assessing these impacts is necessary.”

While the mix of private ownership, public regulation and interlinked infrastructure have made addressing the climate resiliency of energy sector infrastructure challenging to date, Wilbanks struck a hopeful tone in the reports and in his discussion of the results. He highlighted the work done by Entergy on the Gulf Coast to assess resiliency options and recent meetings of the oil and gas business on risk analysis as markers of change.

“The US energy sector is large and complex, with impressive financial and management resources, capable of responding to major challenges,” the Climate Change and Energy Supply and Use report says. “It is accustomed to strategy development and operation in the face of uncertainties and risks, both environmental and political. No sector has better capabilities to respond to challenges posed by climate change impacts.”

A great deal of data exists about climate change, its impacts and climate resiliency, but the federal government has struggled to create a clearinghouse for all the information that exists. The NCA process, and the Oak Ridge reports, serve as a summary and collection of existing information, but Wilbanks argues that the NCA should be an ongoing assessment process for identifying vulnerabilities and surfacing solutions.

“In the coming years the energy sector is going to make a lot of energy infrastructure decisions, and they need to include climate adjustments in their risk management strategies,” Wilbanks said. Linking up the shorter-term resiliency infrastructure planning with longer-term mitigation and impacts planning will be a challenge for the sector, but Wilbanks says he already sees “lots of signs of leadership we can learn from.”

To buy copies of the reports, visit the Island Press site here.  



  • scinetist5

    Climate change has been subsitutued for global warming, which is rather absurd. The climate is cyclical and has been ever since the planet came into existence some 4+ billion years ago.

    I’d prefer that the discussion re climate change (global warming) be revamped also – call it POLLUTION. Pollution we can contain and control. Science indicates very strongly that the planet’s climate cannot be controlled or contained.

    30 US Senators spent the night wailing about climate change – I’d bet that none of the 30s’ scientific knowledge extends beyond very basic science courses. Of course, they prefer to listen to the environmental loons. They think science is a vote, a consensus, and not scientific proof of a theory. Today, we cannot determine if the planet’s climate is in a long term warming trend or not. Even if ti is warming it is good for man and plant life. Cold is the serious problem for all of the planet’s life – not warming.

    Let’s get REAL – stop wasting the taxpayer’s $$$$ on trying to change the climate and start directing it toward pollution. By the way, CO2 is not a pollutant – present estimates set it at 390-400 ppm – it does not become a problem until it reaches 12,000 ppm or more. Methane is a pollutant and we can control most of it; except for the thousands of natural gas seeps all over the globe. Sulfur gases are also a pollutant can should be addressed; except for the sulfur content in gas seeps.. Then there’s garbage, plastics, sewage, polluted water that can also be addressed.