Houston oil infrastructure exposed to storms

“The likelihood is that sea level rise will just add on to a surge going up the channel and overflow all the low-lying infrastructure,” said Robert Harriss, past director of the Institute for the Study of Society and the Environment at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. Harris is now president of the Houston Advanced Research Center, which studies energy and environment issues in Texas.

U.S. national security officials have accepted climate change as a reality of the future and have incorporated it into such key strategy documents as the National Intelligence Assessment and the Pentagon’s 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, identifying its effects as likely accelerants of many problems, including infrastructure damage.

Ensuring resiliency to disasters is one of the five core missions of the Department of Homeland Security. The department’s 2008 strategic plan identifies large-scale natural disasters and critical physical infrastructure among its nine priorities.

One of the nation’s premiere storm modelers worries that it will take decades to properly fortify the Gulf oil and gas infrastructure, by which the time coastal geography may have changed enough to render them useless.

Gordon Wells, a researcher with the Center for Space Research at the University of Texas frequently advises policymakers — including the Department of Homeland Security — with sophisticated storm models.

Funding and building the kind of massive projects many think are necessary will take decades, Wells said. But by then, he said, “it may be extremely difficult to sustain an infrastructure that you’ve put in place in those areas.”

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