In 2005, hurricanes Katrina and Rita smashed through the US Gulf Coast.
In addition to the destruction of lives and property, they severely damaged American oil infrastructure. After a long period of relative quiet for the petroleum industry, another hurricane, Harvey, has hit Texas. Its impact will reveal just how much the US energy business has changed in the intervening decade – with new strengths and new vulnerabilities.
Harvey reached the coast as a category 4 storm, the first of that strength to hit the state since 1961. Its winds have slowed, but it is now dumping a year’s worth of rain on Houston and other coastal cities. Forecasters expect an unusually active hurricane season this year, although the number that make landfall, and whether they hit key oil areas, is unpredictable.
After the chaotic response to Katrina blew away the Bush administration’s reputation, Harvey is a test for Donald Trump’s government. Alongside immediate disaster management is the current US official denial of climate change. No single hurricane is “caused” by a warming world, but researchers do believe Harvey is more intense, bigger, longer-lasting and rainier than it would be otherwise. The Texas coast has been naturally subsiding over the past century, while global sea-levels have risen due to warming, expanding waters and melting ice.