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New Orleans, Louisiana Oil Spill (Tanker Tintomara Collision with Barge DM932)August 7, 2008
On July 23, 2008, a tanker and barge collided in the Mississippi River near downtown New Orleans, Louisiana. The barge was reported to be "ripped in half," discharging its entire contents — over 9,000 barrels (380,000 gallons) of No. 6 fuel oil (600KB pdf). The release necessitated the closure of more than 80 miles of river to commercial shipping and recreational boating. The river, shorelines, and adjacent wetlands were impacted in much of the area. This incident represents a significant threat to fish, wildlife, and habitat quality. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) Environmental Contaminant Program and National Wildlife Refuge System personnel responded to the incident.
Fish and Wildlife Service Activities:
The Members of the Service's Southeast Region Spill Response Regional Strike Team are on-site in the Incident Command Center (ICC) in Belle Chasse and participating in field-based operations on the Mississippi River in New Orleans and downstream areas of St. Bernard Parish and Plaquemines Parish.
In cooperation with the Air Operations Section and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the FAA Special Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) was re-issued for an area near a large wading bird rookery (nesting area) in the battture lands adjacent to the Mississippi River near RM 45.0 (29° 32.1’N/089° 44.6’W). The advisory is intended to avoid any additional stress on the nesting birds, by keeping planes and helicopters from disturbing the rookery and possibly moving these birds to oiled habitats. The advisory is in effect from sunrise to sunset through August 11. Another extension is not anticipated. The rookery has shifted to the north, but is still within the general area covered by the advisory.
Salvage and lightering (transferring any oil remaining in the sunken barge to another ship) operations are on-going but behind schedule. Lightering operations are moving slowly because the remaining product is very viscous (sticky and thick). River traffic will be halted when lightering is completed, the bow and stern sections are cut, and the barge sections removed from the water. The barge cutting is planned for Friday, August 8. The best case scenario would be an attempt to remove the bow and stern sections on Saturday, August 9. There is potential for another release (“burp”) of #6 fuel oil during this activity.
Dredging and Ship Traffic
The Mississippi river is regularly dredged to allow ships to navigate the channels at the river's juncture with the Gulf of Mexico (Learn more about dredging.) However, during routine dredging operations on Tuesday, July 29, the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) determined that oil from the spill had mixed with river sediments. Before this discovery, the dredges had been dumping sediment in marsh restoration areas on Delta National Wildlife Refuge (Delta NWR). The protection of Delta NWR is a high priority. Concern that the dredge material may cause ecological harm led to a temporary halting of dredge disposal while dredge material was tested and alternative disposal locations considered.
The test results of the dredge samples collected by National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the first hopper dredge were all below the Louisiana Risk Evaluation Corrective Action Process (RECAP) standards. RECAP establishes the Department's minimum remediation (cleanup) standards. Because the samples were below RECAP standards, the dredge does not require remediation. The sample results from the second hopper dredge were below the RECAP standards and the Corps disposed of the dredged material in Southwest Pass. On Saturday, August 2, sheening was observed in the river near RM 11 and in the dredge hoppers. Normal dredging operations were ceased and Coast Guard personnel are monitoring the dredge hoppers. NOAA personnel collected samples of the sheen in the hoppers for fingerprint analyses (to determine if the oil causing the sheen matches the oil released during the accident). If the Corps cannot continue normal dredging operations in this reach of the river, there is a real possibility that deep draft vessels will eventually not be able to transit.
Normal COE dredging operations have resumed with monitoring. Initial surveys by NOAA have not located any released product in the main channel of the Mississippi River. No sheening was observed on Thursday, August 7, and disposal of dredged spoil was in Southwest Pass and/or the Gulf of Mexico at the designated sites.
Ship traffic is increasing and a major concern is the release of contained product at boom locations within the active clean-up zones. This may pose safety-related issues for water-based operations, as well as stir up some of the spilled oil. Potential adverse weather conditions are possible throughout the week. The Wildlife Group is taking measures to adapt to these and other changing conditions.
Oiled shorelines are being surveyed by the trustees in the Shoreline Clean-up and Assessment Team (SCAT) process. Contained oil may be being released by ship wakes in areas of active clean-up operations or re-suspended from sediments disturbed by deep-draft vessels.
The Coast Guard will monitor the application of surface washing agents ensuring that they are being applied as outlined in the RRT Region VI Emergency Response Pre-approved Guidelines to Decontaminate Vessels and Hard Structure in Coastal Port Areas and Area Contingency Plan. The Coast Guard will evaluate the product(s) effectiveness. Any observed negative effects will be documented and the Service Environmental Contaminants response personnel notified. If subsurface plumes are observed, water sampling will be initiated immediately. All analytical data will be shared with the Wildlife Group. In the event of high pressure flushing, water sampling is required under the pre-approval guidance to assess hazards to the aquatic environment.
Approximately 140,000 gallons of an oily water mix have been recovered from the river and 525 barrels of black oil/3,745 cubic yards of oily debris removed thus far during land-based clean-up operations.
Clean-up operations were suspended due to Tropical Storm Edouard. Five to seven foot seas were reported, river conditions were difficult, and the lower part of Plaquemines Parish was under a tropical storm warning. Stage/Elevations of the Mississippi River increased. Approximately 140,000 gallons of an oily water mix have been recovered from the river and 474 barrels of black oil/3,120 cubic yards of oily debris removed during land-based clean-up operations.
Ship traffic is increasing and a major concern is the release of contained product at boom locations within the active clean-up zones. Patchy, light silver sheening was observed in the Mississippi River, near RM 52.0. Silver sheen from clean-up operations were noted near RM 62.0. There are sporadic releases of black oil streamers and heavy sheen in the river from the sunken barge and behind the High Volume Open Sea Skimmer (HOSS) barge deployed downstream of the accident area. A significant amount of #6 fuel oil remains on the barge.
Over 13 miles of hard and absorbent booms have been placed within the river and adjacent habitats at various locations to contain/capture as much of the released product as possible. Oil skimmers have been deployed to recover the oil. All impacted vessels are actively undergoing cleaning and decontamination. Ship traffic is increasing and a major concern is the release of contained product at boom locations within the active clean-up zones.
Tar patties were observed at RM 37 and rainbow sheening was observed at Head of Passes between RM 5.0 and RM 10.0. Contained oil may be being released by ship wakes in areas of active clean-up operations or re-suspended from sediments from deep-draft vessels.
The Department of Homeland Security’s National Operations Center reports that the Mississippi River is closed from mile marker 98 to the Southwest Pass Sea Buoy, in the Gulf of Mexico. Approximately 156 deep draft vessels and 49 tug/barge combinations have been affected by the closure. The Coast Guard is allowing limited and highly coordinated movement of river traffic. Four decontamination stations have been established to clean vessels that have been oiled as they leave the current spill zone. Twenty three deep draft vessels have proceeded through decontamination stations; five of these vessels are inbound and 18 are outbound. Nearly 150,000 feet of boom has been deployed to protect environmentally and economically sensitive areas. An estimated 53,466 gallons of oil and water mix has been recovered, and 2,520 gallons of oil are estimated to have evaporated.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports on the incident indicate that the barge is still adjacent to the Crescent City Connection Bridge in New Orleans. Efforts continue to survey and implement the plan to stabilize the barge in place to allow lightering (removal) of any residual oil. Once the pollution threat is removed, the barge will be salvaged. The spilled oil is mostly stranded near the downtown piers and downstream shorelines along 50 miles of the river. Sheens and observed tar patties extend even further. Significant riverine and wetland habitats (e.g., willow swamps) have been impacted by the release. As the oil weathers (e.g., changes chemically and physically) and contacts the high sediment loading of the Mississippi River, some of the oil is thought lost to the river as non-floating oil fragments and small tarballs. Some of the oil initially trapped in batture areas escaped due in part to dropping river levels. Shoreline cleanup is progressing, but there is much work to be done. The Coast Guard has stated that cleanup safety and reopening the river to commercial traffic will be balanced in a manner to accomplish both goals.