Friday, July 25, 2008 New Orleans, LA – Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper and Atchafalaya Basinkeeper made a special air patrol today to check on the area of the Mississippi River affected by the oil spilled from the barge that was hit by a tanker on Wednesday. What was found was not encouraging. Oil continues to leak from the wreckage of the barge and there were extensive oil slicks on the river from the wreckage to the extent of our patrol (near Carlisle).
A pilot we spoke to said that it was like this all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. It appears that oil has been continuously leaking from the barge in substantial quantities since the wreck occurred. Disturbingly, there appears to be little effort to contain and collect the leaking oil. While many areas on the river have been boomed off to prevent the oil from getting into things like intakes, diversions and other waterways, there seems to be little real attempt to collect the spilling oil. It appears that the oil is simply being allowed to escape into the Gulf of Mexico.
These photos were taken on our patrol at around 12:00p.m. Friday, July 25, 2008:
Oil continues to leak from the barge as of noon friday
There was some clean up activity near the French Quarter/CBD area though this boom does not appear to be doing anything and it does not cover the width of the flow of oil from the barge. We saw no other booms being used to collect oil.
The sheen of oil covered much of the river
More oil slicks
Oil as far as the eye can see
What is leaking was reported as No. 6 fuel oil, also called residual fuel oil (RFO) or heavy fuel oil, which is what remains of crude oil after gasoline and the distillate fuel oils are extracted through distillation. No. 6 fuel oil often contains high levels of sulfur compounds and heavy metals. It is used for fuel in some boilers, including marine boilers.
Over 1 million people live along the river corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans with many of those people getting their drinking water from the river. This stretch of the river also conducts a large volume of shipping of raw industrial materials, many of which are hazardous in some way. Accidents with barges on the river are an all too common occurrence and yet we are very lucky that worse catastrophes have not occurred. We believe that there needs to be a serious review of the safety practices used for the shipping of dangerous cargo in Louisiana. Barges need to be labeled in such a way that first responders can easily determine from a distance what the barge contains so that they know what they are dealing with. Double hulled containers for petroleum products and other hazardous material should also be required. Hazardous cargo should be accompanied with an additional vessel which would act as a spotter or alert vehicle, much like oversized cargo on the road. Communication during an incident should also be improved. Local officials and responders need to be informed about an incident immediately so that steps can be taken to make sure that drinking water supplies are protected and residents can be evacuated if necessary.