Imagine living near the Jersey Shore and a hurricane is barrelling in your direction, or living along the South Platte River in Colorado and an unexpected torrential downpour is flooding the river.
Are there natural gas, oil pipelines or electricity transmission lines that could break and leak in the flood or storm surge? Are oil and gas wells nearby that could flood and leach hydrocarbons into the river?
Those answers can be found online using the U.S. Energy Information Administration's interactive U.S. Energy Mapping System, which shows all the major energy infrastructure for any given address in the U.S. It allows anyone to look closely at what power plants, refineries, oil wells, power lines and other installations might exist in a place that is vulnerable to extreme weather.
The U.S. Energy Mapping System shows the web of natural gas pipelines, power plants and refineries that spread across the Louisiana Gulf Coast both on and off shore, an area hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Credit: EIA
Launched last July, the EIA has now optimized the U.S. Energy Mapping System for mobile devices in time for the beginning of the 2014 hurricane season as a way to allow residents living along vulnerable coast lines to see what what sort of major energy infrastructure is in the path of a storm — installations that could be severely disrupted if a hurricane hits.
EIA Director Adam Sieminiski said in a statement that the mapping system informs both the public and local officials about possible risks to energy infrastructure during major weather events.
Zoom in on the Louisiana coast along the Gulf of Mexico — an area devastated during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — and the Energy Mapping System will show a web of natural gas pipelines fanning out into the Gulf, along with a long series of refineries, ports and power plants along both the coast and the Mississippi River. A 2013 study showed that global warming has doubled the risk of Katrina-like storm surges in the U.S.
Or consider Colorado. Parts of the town of Evans, and numerous nearby oil and gas wells were flooded along the South Platte River northeast of Denver during last fall's heavy rains that inundated much of the Front Range.
The U.S. Energy Mapping System shows the oil and gas wells that exist along the South Platte River south of Greeley, Colo., an area flooded during heavy rains in 2013. Credit: EIA
Mark Elbert, EIA program manager for the mapping system, said the system doesn’t currently contain flood plain or flooding predictions. But residents living near the South Platte River can zoom in on the area to see how many oil and gas wells exist near the river’s shore.
It’s also possible to use the EIA’s mapping system to get an idea how far above sea level certain energy installations sit. For example, the Indian Point Energy Center nuclear power plant sits more than 15 feet above sea level along the Hudson River north of New York City on a shoreline surrounded by nearby hills.
The U.S. Energy Mapping System shows the location of New York's Indian Point Energy Center nuclear power plant in relation to the Hudson River and the surrounding hills. Credit: EIA
Regardless whether the maps are used for discovering what is in the path of a storm, the maps it provides are a fascinating look at what kind of energy source is transmitted across a state or produced in any area.
The maps also provide access to data on most installations that appear on the map.
“All of the nation’s 6,026 electrical power plants and 1,598 active coal mines are linked directly to statistics and graphs of annual and monthly production for each facility,” Elbert said.