The Big Drowned City

The entire city of New Orleans has been ordered evacuated, and water continues to pour in through a colossal five-hundred foot hole in a major floodwall. Engineers have become so desperate, they are considering placing a gigantic boat in to plug the hole.

A fellow named Ben P at the blog MyDD wrote some of the analysis I was looking for on Katrina's fallout. Namely that while we have an abandoned major American urban center in New Orleans, we've also got a non-functioning major port system. Ben P quotes the intelligence service Stratfor to give the significance the Port of Southern Louisiana:

The Port of Southern Louisiana is the fifth-largest port in the world in terms of tonnage, and the largest port in the United States. The only global ports larger are Singapore, Rotterdam, Shanghai and Hong Kong. It is bigger than Houston, Chiba and Nagoya, Antwerp and New York/New Jersey. It is a key link in U.S. imports and exports and critical to the global economy.
The Port of Southern Louisiana stretches up and down the Mississippi River for about 50 miles, running north and south of New Orleans from St. James to St. Charles Parish. It is the key port for the export of grains to the rest of the world -- corn, soybeans, wheat and animal feed. Midwestern farmers and global consumers depend on those exports. The United States imports crude oil, petrochemicals, steel, fertilizers and ores through the port. Fifteen percent of all U.S. exports by value go through the port. Nearly half of the exports go to Europe.
The Port of Southern Louisiana is a river port. It depends on the navigability of the Mississippi River. The Mississippi is notorious for changing its course, and in southern Louisiana -- indeed along much of its length -- levees both protect the land from its water and maintain its course and navigability. Dredging and other maintenance are constant and necessary to maintain its navigability. It is fragile.
I would have linked and quoted reports about the current state of the Port of Southern Louisiana, but, oddly enough I couldn't find a one.

Ben P also quotes the Lew Rockwell Institute's analysis on the oil and gas refineries in the region:
The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port is closed. It is the only terminal in the US capable of receiving very large oil tankers, such as those used to ship Saudi or Venezuelan crude to the US. Much of the US Gulf of Mexico crude output is probably shut in right now, and will likely remain shut in for some time to come. Shipping will also be disrupted for a while, too. Refining is also concentrated on the Gulf coast. If a large enough number of refineries are closed -- and stay closed -- gasoline prices will skyrocket.
If that is not bad enough, the Henry Hub in Louisiana is closed too. It is the main -- I think possibly the only -- point where US Gulf natural gas flows into the continental US natural gas network. The folks at the New York Mercantile Exchange are having an emergency meeting about this (the Henry Hub is the price point for NY natgas futures). A lengthy closure will cause problems for traded natural gas.
And could cause a major crisis for natural gas in the US as soon as this week if it closed too long. With all the focus on oil, no one has paid much attention to the fact that natural gas production in North America has been declining for the last several years and, aside from the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, the Alaska North Slope and the McKenzie Delta (the gas from Alaksa and northern Canada will likely not its way south before 2010), there is not enough gas out there to meet rising demand (especially for power generation). Americans are heavily dependent on the Gulf for natgas and oil, and lengthy outages or severe damage to capacity will only tighten the squeeze on energy markets.
So, yeah. Major economic implications -- from energy shortages to agricultural exports to our trade account imbalance.


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