“The continuing drought of 2012—which has created abnormally dry conditions over 80% of the contiguous U.S.—may soon prevent barge traffic from navigating the critical 180-mile stretch of the Mississippi River between the confluences of the Missouri River near St. Louis and the Ohio River at Cairo, Ill., along which river depth is 15 to 20 feet less than normal. At the same time, oil companies conducting fracking operations in North Dakota are demanding immense quantities of Missouri River water be diverted to them, further threatening levels on the Mississippi.
Experts predict the river could close to barges in mid-December and remain that way for two months, just as the harvest heads to market via river barges, and fertilizer shipments head north. According to the trade group American Waterways Operators, closing the Middle Mississippi for the next two months would impede the transport of $7 billion worth of products including 7 million tons of agricultural products worth $2.3 billion; 1.7 million tons of chemical products worth $1.8 billion; 1.3 million tons of petroleum products worth $1.3 billion; 700,000 tons of crude oil worth $534 million; and 3.8 million tons of coal worth $192 million. Finding alternative transportation will be costly, with consumers eventually footing the bill.”