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This month, an oil refinery on the Delaware River sought approval from state officials and Army engineers to reinforce its facilities. Why? Because the earth is warming, storms are churning, and the sea level’s already high enough to endanger the oil company’s business.
In its filing, the Delaware City Refining Company says its shoreline is disappearing. Rapidly. “The extent of tidal encroachment is obvious,” the report says, adding: “Review of historical photography suggests that the rate of shoreline erosion is increasing.” The only solution, it says, is to build a protective ring of buoys “that has the resilience to deal with Sea Level Rise (SLR) for at least 50 years.”
The oil company’s report has some ominous graphics, including the one above, showing the progressive erosion of the waterline by tides and waves, egged on by rising sea levels. In some cases, the refinery’s storage facilities and vehicle lots are already on the mouth of the new shoreline, thanks to that rising tide:
Once the local Sierra Club managed to stop gloating about the irony of a carbon-producing oil company making preparations to cope with carbon-caused climate changes, it did notice an issue with the company’s plan: The proposed buoys would dissipate wave energy from tides, boats, and storms, but they wouldn’t do much about the actual sea rise, which is accelerating.
“Delaware’s coastal areas could experience sea levels at 0.5 to 1.5 meters above their present level by 2100,” the Sierra Club argues. “Adjusting to the new conditions of higher sea levels, the report suggests, should involve planning for adaptation measures and building adaptive capacity.” The group suggested those measures might include the oil refinery changing the magnitude of its greenhouse gas output.
Regardless of what coping methods it takes, it’s remarkable that a petroleum-producer is acknowledging the effects of climate change on its business. Remarkable, but not unique. For nigh on half a decade now, vintners have been popping up in warmer climes, shippers have been charting new routes through sea lanes once cluttered with ice, and insurance companies are adjusting their actuarials to deal with the new environment.
“Though major international corporations tend to be amoral machines for collecting revenue without regard to fairness or human life,” a colleague of mine once wrote, “they do have one thing going for them: when there’s money on the line, they don’t waste time fucking around”:
You will never see a major international corporation prancing around fancy-free and acting as if the seas aren’t going to rise and whatnot, because they have assets to protect. Failing to plan for global warming due to some weird anti-science bias could potentially cost them billions of dollars. Therefore they will plan.
Is the planning a little more complicated when your business is essentially what’s making the globe warmer? Not especially. Just put out a couple floaters and keep counting the money.