Planning for Subsidence in Houston

Local officials spend a good deal of time planning for the arrival of hurricanes. Recent events have demonstrated how important that planning can be. A group of scientists and engineers want those leaders to also consider planning for a less dramatic but none-the-less serious natural event.

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That event is subsidence. Recently the Houston Geological Society and the Engineering, Science and Technology Council of Houston brought experts and local leaders together.

Dave Rensink is a Senior Staff Geologist with the Apache Corporation and President of the Houston Geological Society. He says subsidence is moving from an environmental problem, such as the loss of wetlands, to an economic problem.

And that idea, that subsidence is caused by one or two problems, is where there is some controversy. Some local authorities, whose mission is to deal with subsidence, believe that ground water and oil and gas extraction cause subsidence and that the Houston area is more aware of the problem and is dealing with it better than any other place in the country. Dave Rensink agrees that water and oil and gas extraction play a significant role here, but that there are other natural causes of subsidence in the vast Gulf of Mexico basin that have been occurring for millions of years and will continue to occur into the future. Rensink believes that we have to account for all the causes of subsidence in planning to deal with its results. Those results are the loss of land that separates the Gulf from populated areas and land that is more susceptible to flooding because it has sunk lower than the land around it. That says Rensink can be catastrophic. If, Rensink says when, Galveston subsides three feet and is hit with a 12 foot storm surge...

This is not meant to be alarming. Dr Roy Dokka, a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Louisiana State University, and the co-author of a report that found the Louisiana Gulf coast is subsiding a rates greater then expected, says we should know what risk we face.

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