The Texas A&M University System News Release

Without ‘Ike Dike,’ gas prices could reach $8 or $10 per gallon

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Hurricane Season 2019 is officially over. Thankfully, Texas avoided a calamity. But it is just a matter of time before a major hurricane zeroes in on one of the most sensitive and vital places in the country.

Any hurricane strike, anywhere on the coast is significant and tragic, but a direct hit on the Houston Ship Channel would bring a national financial catastrophe and a staggering amount of death.

But much of the economic fallout and loss of life in Houston can be prevented.

A group of scientists led by Dr. Bill Merrell and Dr. Sam Brody at Texas A&M University at Galveston have grown tired of gambling with the state’s economic lifeblood and its residents’ lives, and they came up with a blueprint to protect Texas. Brody and Merrell devised a solution, but it has not been put into motion.

See a video with an introduction by Chancellor John Sharp Ike Dyke about the vision of these two Texas A&M University at Galveston professors who have dedicated their careers to protecting Texas.

“Hurricanes Ike and Harvey have shown us the power of nature, and we know it is matter of time before we get a direct hit on the Houston Ship Channel by a mega-storm,” Chancellor Sharp said. “I hope we can put a plan in place – a plan like the one devised by Bill Merrell and Sam Brody – before we get crushed.”

Merrell and Brody came up with a Dutch-inspired concept to keep storm surges from inundating some of the most densely populated zip codes and economically vital spaces of the U.S.

The plan includes giant sea gates across the Houston Channel. They would close when storms approach, while otherwise remaining open for freighter traffic. The plan also involves an enormous levy system that would start with the existing seawall on Galveston Island and extend south down the coast and north the along Bolivar Peninsula.

The concept of Brody and Merrell is called the “coastal spine”— or the “Ike Dike,” after Hurricane Ike of 2008. Hurricane Ike and the accompanying storm surge were brutal, causing more than $30 billion in damage.

The storm was considered a near miss, but Brody and Merrell know better than anyone that it could have been worse. And more to the point, much of the damage could have been prevented with more planning and investment.

“What we found was that if the dike was built back in 2008, and Hurricane Ike hit the coast in the same direction, the same path, the structure would have reduced 95 percent of all residential damages,” Brody said.

Looking ahead, the duo, who are part of The Center for Texas Beaches and Shores (CTBS) at Texas A&M University at Galveston, created a model of the worst-case scenario for Houston. If a 500-year storm barrels straight up the gut of Galveston Bay, it would overtake the Houston Ship Channel, and along its way, take offline the country’s most important petrochemical plants that supply much of the nation’s gasoline and the vast majority of military and commercial jet fuel.

With a direct hit, the effect on the petrochemical industry of Texas would amount to a reduction of about $170 billion of lost revenue, he added.

The broader ramifications would have effects well outside of Texas, as gas prices across the U.S. potentially could reach $8 or $10 per gallon and airlines and military jets wouldn’t have the fuel needed to operate.

Brody put the potential damage to the region into perspective. He said that a major storm easily could cause enough damage to decrease the gross state product by over 8 percent, which translates into about $860 billion of losses.

“That’s something that is entirely feasible, and that’s something that we need to avoid, and not wait for the next big storm to take action,” Brody said.

Professors from Texas A&M’s Galveston Campus Train Next Generation of Scientists to Protect the Coast

Brody and Merrell are not alone in their quest to protect Texas and the center of the country’s refining. They have created National Science Foundation Partnerships for International Research and Education, or NSF-PIRE. It is a coastal flood risk reduction program, and it was formed to better understand the causes and consequences of coastal flooding. It also brings together top researchers – like Merrell and Brody – to work with students to come up with new ideas and ways to fight flooding and storms’ effects.

Funded by the prestigious National Science Foundation, the five-year grant is the first ever of its kind at Texas A&M University. Every year as part of this larger project on flood risk reduction, the program pays for 16 or so students, and about seven faculty members, to go to the Netherlands for an immersive two-week research experience. There, students interact with professors from the U.S. and the Netherlands and see firsthand how the Dutch effectively keep the sea from flooding places where people live and work.

Their work feeds into a larger research project with the goal of reducing flood risk and negative impacts on the Galveston Bay Area. The students plug away in their own disciplines, both in the Netherlands and in Texas, to contribute to the research and the design of the Ike Dike concept.

Students who have been part of PIRE often go on to work for Gulf Coast industries, engineering firms, landscape architecture firm and government agencies.

About The Texas A&M University System
The Texas A&M University System is one of the largest systems of higher education in the nation, with a budget of $6.3 billion. Through a statewide network of 11 universities, a comprehensive health science center, eight state agencies, and the RELLIS Campus, the Texas A&M System educates more than 153,000 students and makes more than 22 million additional educational contacts through service and outreach programs each year. System-wide, research and development expenditures exceeded $996 million in FY 2017 and helped drive the state’s economy.

Contact: Laylan Copelin
Vice Chancellor of Marketing and Communications
(979) 458-6425
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September 2020