Washington— One of the Southeast’s last free-flowing rivers and an important nursery for a Gulf of Mexico fishery worth hundreds of millions of dollars could be irreparably harmed if the U.S. Department of Energy allows a massive petroleum storage project along the river. This threat landed the Pascagoula in the number nine spot in America’s Most Endangered Rivers: 2009 edition.
“This project would squander billions of taxpayer dollars on oil infrastructure at a time when we should be investing in non-polluting 21st century energy sources and protecting healthy rivers like the Pascagoula that give our communities good jobs, clean water, and so much more,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers.
The $4 billion storage project is part of plans to expand the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). The naturally-occurring Richton salt domes, located north of the Pascagoula, would be gradually hollowed out to create a storage area for as much as 160 million barrels of oil. Fifty million gallons of water per day would be pumped from the river over the course of five years in order to dissolve salt from the domes, nearly doubling current water withdrawals. American Rivers and its partners are calling on Congress to deny the remaining funding for the project and halt the plan’s progress.
The DOE estimates the Richton project could impact more than 1,500 acres of wetlands, mostly as a result of an extensive, 330 mile long, pipeline system. This estimate does not include wetlands affected by reduced flows along the Pascagoula River. The DOE also predicts 18 oil spills and 75 spills of salty, polluted water during the construction and initial fill of the hollowed domes, further damaging rivers, streams, and wetlands in the basin.
“Our community depends on a healthy Pascagoula River for clean water, jobs, and recreation,” said Raleigh Hoke, Mississippi Organizer for the Gulf Restoration Network. “The Pascagoula River is an amazing natural resource that sustains valuable recreational and commercial fisheries while providing coastal Mississippi with thousands of jobs.”
The region’s commercial fishing industry supports 15,000 jobs and the recreational fishing industry contributes $488 million to the state’s economy each year. Pascagoula-Moss Point Port, the third most productive port in the Gulf of Mexico by pounds of fish caught, is located at the mouth of the Pascagoula River not far from the discharge point.
With global warming already predicted to alter river flows in the Southeast, the double-blow of global warming-induced low flows and water withdrawals for the petroleum storage project could have disastrous effects on the river’s fragile ecosystem and on Gulf of Mexico fish and wildlife.
The Strategic Petroleum Reserve has never been filled to capacity since its creation more than thirty years ago. In 2007 then-President Bush announced that its scope should be more than doubled, and the Richton salt domes project was included in those expansion plans.
“It’s time for the new administration and Congress to step up and protect the health of the Pascagoula River and coastal economy by putting an end to this expensive and environmentally risky project,” Hoke said.
About America’s Most Endangered Rivers
Each year, American Rivers solicits nominations from thousands of river groups, environmental organizations, outdoor clubs, local governments, and taxpayer watchdogs for the America’s Most Endangered Rivers report. The report highlights the rivers facing the most uncertain futures rather than those suffering from the worst chronic problems. The report presents alternatives to proposals that would damage rivers, identifies those who make the crucial decisions, and points out opportunities for the public to take action on behalf of each listed river.
Rebecca Wodder is available for interview, both pre and post embargo. Please contact Caitlin Jennings, 202-347-7550 x3100 for booking.
Reporters wishing to direct readers to the report online may use the following link: http://www.AmericanRivers.org/EndangeredRivers
American Rivers is the leading organization working to protect and restore the nation’s rivers and streams. Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Since 1973, American Rivers has fought to preserve these connections, helping protect and restore more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual release of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®.
Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 100,000 supporters, members, and volunteers nationwide. Visit www.americanrivers.org, www.facebook.com/americanrivers and www.twitter.com/americanrivers.