A barge pulling crude oil collided with a towboat on the Mississippi River on Saturday afternoon, spilling enough oil to close down 65 miles of waterway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The closed area near the town of Vacherie included the Port of New Orleans, one of the biggest ports in the US. It was shut off to water traffic from Saturday evening as authorities attempted to reduce the amount of oil traveling downriver, as well as possible contamination of other boats. The closure continued through Sunday as crews worked to clean the spilled oil. 16 vessels waited in a queue to go downriver during the afternoon, while 10 going upriver waited on the other side.
Authorities could not say how long the closure would last, but the area was still closed as of early Monday morning. Later in the morning on Monday a conference will be given by authorities involved in the clean-up and investigation. It is hoped that by that time there will be an idea of how much oil, in fact, spilled, and how much longer that section of the Mississippi River might be closed. Yesterday authorities were describing the spill as showing only a light sheen on the water.
Equipment to assist in recovering the involved boats was deployed, along with oil-spill recovery equipment. According to Coast Guard Officer Bill Colclough, no one was hurt or injured. The cause of the accident is not yet known, but Colclough said that the barge, which was pushed by the Hannah C. Settoon, collided with the Lindsay Ann Erickson. The latter was pushing barges filled with grain. The barge split, causing the spill, but it has not yet been reported whether there was any damage to the other vessel. The Mississippi is the region’s primary drinking source, so water intakes have been closed in the region of St. Charles Parish as a precaution. Officials do not worry about this as there is believed to be enough of a reserve, and indicated in a press release yesterday that the St. Charles Parish water supply is safe. This is not the first time there has been an oil spill on the Mississippi River.
In 2005, during Hurricane Katrina, a total estimated 7 million gallons of oil were spilled in the Mississippi and surrounding waterways. Again, in July 2008, 98 miles of river from New Orleans southward along the Mississippi was closed due to an oil spill that occurred when a fuel barge and a tanker collided. During that incident, authorities initially reported seeing a sheen of oil on the water and nearby banks. There was a concern that the oil could work its way up the food chain to wildlife and even to humans, as many people in the area fish for their own consumption.
In 2008, in Mississippi it was estimated that the “light sheen” was caused by more than 419,000 gallons of oil being spilled into the river. For this 2014 incident, one in a string of Mississippi River oil spills, the amount is as yet unknown. The clean up will continue today.
By Julie Mahfood