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Notebook Science

Soil and gas

DELTA FLIGHT: Oil production facilities in the Barataria Bay region of Louisiana. (Associated Press/Photo by Bill Haber)

Warren Wilson Archaeology


Soil and gas

New Orleans officials want energy companies to pay billions to restore the coast

Should the oil and gas industry be held liable for eroding wetlands in the Mississippi River delta? A major lawsuit, filed July 24, will answer that question: A board responsible for maintaining levees that protect New Orleans, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, claims energy companies have “ravaged Louisiana’s coastal landscape” for nearly a century, creating an “extensive network of oil and gas access and pipeline canals that slashes the coastline at every angle” and causes the erosion of “mountains of soil.” An attorney for the board said it was seeking “many, many billions of dollars” in damages from 97 oil, gas, and pipeline companies.

Scientific and government reports blame a third or more of the wetland loss in southeastern Louisiana on the energy industry, and claim the extraction of oil and gas has contributed to subsidence, resulting in the loss of 1,900 square miles of coastland since 1932. The levee board says the loss of this wetland buffer zone increasingly threatens coastal communities during hurricane storm surges. It wants oil and gas companies to begin filling in canals and pay for coastal protection and restoration projects.

Yet much of the erosion is due to other factors, like natural subsidence, rising sea levels, and engineering projects that direct the flow of the Mississippi. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, condemned the lawsuit, saying the levee board had been “hijacked” by trial lawyers.

The idea for the lawsuit came from John M. Barry, the nonscientist vice president of the levee board and author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America.

Early outpost

Archaeologists say they’ve found the site of the oldest European fort in the interior of the United States, constructed four decades before the English settled Jamestown in Virginia. In the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains near what is now Morganton, N.C., Spanish explorers built Fort San Juan during a gold-hunting expedition in 1567. It was the first and largest of six forts the explorers, led by Juan Pardo, built around that time. But after about 18 months, conflict with the local Mississippian tribe escalated. The natives burned the fort and killed all but one of its occupants. The Spanish ultimately abandoned the area, leaving the territory open to the English. —D.J.D.

By the numbers

12 miles: Diameter of a newly discovered moon that orbits Neptune every 23 hours. An astronomer noticed the tiny, yet-unnamed moon while studying photos from the Hubble Space Telescope. Neptune, the most distant true planet in our solar system, now has 14 known moons.

83: Patients who died in 2012 under Washington state’s assisted suicide program. Since the state’s Death with Dignity Act went into effect in March 2009, annual assisted suicides have increased 130 percent. In May Vermont joined Washington, Oregon, and Montana in legalizing the practice.

2,556: Total genes in the largest virus ever discovered. Two new giant viruses—one found in an Australian pond and another in seawater near Chile—are each about 1 micron in length, 1,000 times larger than a flu virus. They are so unlike other species researchers have given them their own genus, Pandoravirus. (Science) —D.J.D.