September 16, 2005

Oil spills along Miss. River contained: Coast Guard

By Frank McGurty

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (Reuters) - All the oil spilled in
six major Louisiana incidents after Hurricane Katrina has been
contained and almost none of it flowed directly into the
Mississippi River, the U.S. Coast Guard said on Friday.

A total of 160,000 barrels of oil leaked from tanks and
pipelines at the six principal sites damaged by the August 29
hurricane, including Murphy Oil Co.'s Mereux, Louisiana,
refinery. Of that, teams have recovered some 50,000 barrels,
each of which equals 42 gallons.

"Much of the oil has already dispersed naturally or has
evaporated, said Capt. Frank Paskewich, federal on-scene
coordinator for the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard has fielded no reports of offshore spills
in the Gulf of Mexico, he said, though leaks could spring when
the thousands of oil platforms and hundreds of miles of
pipeline are restarted. Last year, Hurricane Ivan was
responsible for oil spills in the Gulf, he said.

Paskewich dismissed suggestions by an environmental
advocacy group that satellite photos showed some 7,000 square
miles of oil floating in the Gulf, saying numerous flyovers
revealed only minor sheening.

Skytruth, a group that uses satellite imagery to track
environmental damage, says extensive oil slicks are visible in
areas of the Gulf raked by hurricane-force winds.

Some of the spills are coming directly from oil platforms,
while others suggest damage from pipelines on the seabed,
according to the group's Web site (

"Daily overflights are being conducted to find the real
truth of what's going on," Paskewich said in an interview. "As
for now, I am confident that we have not received any reports
of significant oil spills offshore."


Officials expect the cleanup along the Mississippi to be
complete in a matter of weeks, but the longer term impact of
the spill on the environment has yet to be determined.

Thankfully, nearly all of the oil was contained by
earthenberms designed for that purpose. Any oil that escaped
the berms flowed inland, away from the river levees, Paskewich
said. Only a few minor oil sheens, thin enough to evaporate in
the sun, have appeared on the river so far, he said, and they
probably came from small watercraft that sank in the storm.

None of the leaks sent oil directly into the Mississippi
River at the six sites, which all lie south of New Orleans. The
leaks involved either ruptured tanks or pipelines protected by

The largest spill occurred at a facility operated by Bass
Enterprises Production Co. in Cox Bay, Louisiana, where 3.78
million gallons of oil discharged, the Coast Guard said in a
news release.

Major oil spills, defined as 100,000 gallons or more, also
occurred at a Royal Dutch Shell facility in Pilot Town,
Louisiana, and at a Chevron facility in Empire, Louisiana. Each
of those spills involved about 1 million gallons (4.55 million
liters), while the spill at the Murphy refinery amounted to
more than 800,000 gallons (3.64 million liters).