Pipeline dumps 300,000 gallons of diesel near New Orleans, killing fish and other animals
NEW ORLEANS – A severely corroded pipeline ruptured and spilled more than 300,000 gallons of diesel fuel just outside New Orleans after needed repairs to the line were delayed by its operator, according to reports. federal records.
Most of the fuel flowed into two man-made ponds called “borrow pits” and thousands of fish, birds and other animals were killed, state and local officials said. Most of the fuel was recovered, according to the pipeline owner.
The spill from the 16-inch-diameter pipeline operated by Collins Pipeline Co. was discovered on Dec. 27 near a dike in the parish of St. Bernard, just east of New Orleans, according to documents from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
An inspection of the 42-year-old Meraux pipeline more than a year earlier in October 2020 revealed external corrosion along a 22-foot section of pipe in the same area as the spill. But repairs were delayed and the line continued to operate after a subsequent inspection indicated that the corrosion was not severe enough to require work immediately under federal regulations, according to the pipeline agency.
The spilled fuel also contaminated the ground in an environmentally sensitive area near the outlet of the Mississippi Gulf, a closed channel, according to state and federal officials. A small amount of diesel remains in the two borrow pits, said Gregory Langley, spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.
The spill killed 2,300 fish and more than 100 other animals, including 39 snakes, 32 birds, a few eels and a blue crab, according to statistics provided by Robert “Trey” Iles, spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Nearly 130 animals – 72 alligators, 23 birds, 20 snakes and 12 turtles – have been captured for rehabilitation, he said.
Diesel is a highly toxic petroleum product that can kill fish and plants that come in direct contact with it, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Fuel from small spills can evaporate or disperse naturally in just a few days, but larger spills can take months to break down.
A pipeline safety advocate said it was “infuriating” that corrosion had been known for more than a year before the spill, but that fuel continued to flow through the 125-mile line from Chalmette to a storage terminal in Collins, Mississippi.
“It is particularly infuriating to learn that the initial Collins Pipeline analysis found the pipe to be in such poor condition that it warrants immediate repair,” said Bill Caram of the Pipeline Safety Trust. The Bellingham, Wash., Based organization is advocating for tighter oversight of the nation’s vast network of pipelines carrying oil, natural gas and other dangerous fuels.
Collins Pipeline is a subsidiary of PBF Energy Inc., based in Parsippany, New Jersey, which owns six oil refineries in the United States, including the Chalmette refinery in the parish of St. Bernard.
The company has repaired the line since the spill and has resumed operations, PBF vice president Michael Karlovich told The Associated Press in an email on Wednesday.
Karlovich said work to recover the fuel spilled from the man-made ponds was completed with about 323,000 gallons of diesel collected – a figure that includes both the spilled fuel and the diesel that remained inside the pipeline after the ‘accident. He did not provide ventilation.
“Although we continue to clean up and monitor the area, the overwater salvage operations have been completed,” Karlovich said. He said the site was about 4.5 miles from the Mississippi River, and not just a few hundred yards as federal officials had said.
In order for PBF chairman Thomas Nimbley to outline the actions the company had to take before restarting the line, Federal Pipeline Safety Agency Associate Administrator Alan Mayberry identified the likely cause of the spill as “Localized corrosion and metal loss”. on the basis of preliminary reports.
More than two months before the spill, a representative from PBF Energy said in an October 2021 email to federal pipeline regulators that the company had completed repairs on another faulty section of the line, but was still awaiting the approval to combat corrosion found near the site of the rupture, according to federal records.
The company had already reduced the pressure inside the line in November 2020, shortly after the discovery of corrosion. The company eased the pressure slightly in November 2021 because it failed to repair the line within the time frame required by federal regulations, pipeline officials said.
The spill had not been publicly reported before.
Federal regulators have filed six lawsuits against Collins Pipeline since 2007. They include a 2021 warning letter alleging management problems in the company’s Texas pipeline control room and a 2011 warning for not doing enough. frequently from external corrosion testing, according to federal records.
No fines or other sanctions were imposed on the company, according to the records.