The Norco Louisiana Shell Explosion of 1988

Originally published in the American Guide.

The Times Picayune. May 6th, 1988.

New Orleans Times Picayune. May 6th 1988.

Shell Oil erected their catalytic cracking unit in the early 1950s during a multimillion dollar expansion boom. The unit itself was 16 stories high, a “colossus of the petroleum industry” as described by the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The new machinery grew outwards and upwards from the old tiers of the refinery, consuming 3,178 tons of structural steel, 27,500 cubic yards of concrete, 8,000 valves of all shapes and sizes, and thousands of pilings driven deep into the deltaic mud. By 1955, the enormous expansion was complete. The small river town of Norco, Louisiana now had an industrial skyline, and the cat cracker was its most impressive spire.

As decades passed, however, the unit became just more steel in the bizarre landscape of the town. It was a single component in a system of petrochemical production that was growing ever more complex. More variables, more hazards. A new chemical agent was introduced to the daily production process of the machine, but the corrosive properties of the agent weren’t adequately tested. Over the course of six months, it began to wear away a pipe elbow deep inside the machine. The corrosion formed a hole, and through the hole, hydrocarbons poured into a confined chamber of the unit. It created a dense, combustible ball of gas; and on the predawn morning of May 5th, 1988, within the chamber something sparked.

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End Millennium - Darin Joseph AcostaYou and your sister break into Wal-Mart in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane with a stranger you met on Craigslist. Interactive fiction with sounds by Seamstress & Amitai Heller.

Recent wanderings through the River Parishes.

Script to Compile iWitness Pollution Reports to GeoJSON

This Node script scrapes the RSS feed for the Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s iWitness Pollution Map and compiles the incidents into a single GeoJSON string. The scraped incidents are limited to the “River Parishes” of Jefferson, St. Charles, St. John, and St. James. These are among the most heavily industrialized parishes in the state.

You can fork the repo here. To scrape incidents currently in the feed, run “node compile_incidents” from the root directory.