The Electric Commentary

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Two Questions

Answered by the Slate. I was wondering about both of these all day.

The first:
What is the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and where do we keep it? Is it really just a giant underground vat of oil?


According to news reports, the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve will soon be opened to help mitigate the decline in oil production in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In 2002, Brendan I. Koerner explained that the oil reserves are kept in underground salt caverns in Texas and Louisiana. "Should things get hairy, energy-wise … the president alone has the authority to order a 'drawdown' of the reserve, at an estimated rate of 4.1 million barrels per day," Koerner writes.

and is it crude, or processed?

Not all SPR oil is created equal. About a third of the stockpile qualifies as "sweet" crude, meaning that its sulfur content is less than one-half of 1 percent. The rest is more sulfur-laden "sour" crude. Sweet crude is more desirable among refinery pooh-bahs, but when we're in a bind that might require tapping the SPR, beggars can't be choosers.

Much more here.

Secondly, if New Orleans is below sea level, how did it get there in the first place?


If New Orleans is below sea level, why isn't it underwater? Because it's protected by natural and artificial barriers. The city sits on the banks of the Mississippi, where sediment from the river had created areas of elevated land called "natural levees." New Orleans' earliest buildings sat on top of these levees, but as the population grew, houses were built farther inland at lower elevations. To create usable land, water had to be pumped out of the area, which in turn caused the ground to sink even lower. It's possible for part of New Orleans to exist below sea level because the levees that surround the city protect it (most of the time) from floods.


  • Lots of cities along the Mississippi depend on levees because otherwise they would be swamps that are part of the river. They do the same thing as they did to make N.O. Ironically, the levees just make flooding worse in areas not protected by levees. In fact, in Missouri, along the Missouri River, the US gov't bought out a town because it was destroyed by floods and was deemed to great a flood risk.

    By Anonymous Scott H, at 4:35 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Amazon Logo