Scientists have accused the oil industry of playing a decisive role in causing the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina.

A network of 10,000 miles of service canals dug to tap oil and natural gas around the Mississippi Delta led to a loss of marshland which would have formed a first barrier to the hurricane, say some experts.

But critics of the oil companies argue that their drilling in the marshland caused half the marshland loss, equal to around 1,000 square miles. The canals, mostly dug to access wells from the 1930s to 1970s, often run perpendicular to the shoreline, allowing salt water to intrude far inland.

Scientists claim the oil companies also killed the marshland by releasing toxin brine from the drilling and by piling the slop dredged from the canals into 13,000 miles of tide-blocking spoil banks.

With estimates of the cost of repairing New Orleans and restoring the delta soaring as high as $60 billion, there are growing calls for the major US oil companies – which last year earned a record $162 billion – to pay up.

They have the money, right…