Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
Preparing for the Worst: Ghosts of Christmas Past and an Unrealized Christmas Future
Midwest Region, November 21, 2013
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Workers attempt to control oil with booms on the Gasconade River, Missouri, December 1988
Workers attempt to control oil with booms on the Gasconade River, Missouri, December 1988 - Photo Credit: St. Louis Post Dispatch file photo.

On Christmas Eve 1988, nearly 900,000 gallons of crude oil spewed from a Shell Oil pipeline into a farmer’s field, and ultimately discharged into the Gasconade River in Missouri’s central Ozark region. Not a very nice Christmas present. The spill was the largest inland spill in U.S. history, depositing thick oil over many miles of the Gasconade and a sheen that extended two hundred miles down the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. The spill caused untold impacts to fish and wildlife resources, shut down drinking water intakes, and even caused the Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis to shut down beer production for weeks. At that time, Dave Mosby was a young environmental specialist with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources assigned to collect water, sediment, and macro-benthic invertebrate samples to help document the spill's environmental impacts. It’s safe to say that the state agencies had not prepared for an environmental response or investigations of such magnitude. Twenty-five years later, Mr. Mosby is a young-ish environmental contaminants biologist for the Columbia Missouri Ecological Services Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, hoping such a spill never happens in Missouri again, but planning for that eventuality. Missouri, like other Midwestern states, is transected by a number of aging petroleum pipelines and new ones are being proposed.


Throughout the last year environmental contaminants biologists at the Columbia Field Office have been involved in a number of spill planning exercises with a variety of partners in an effort to be ready for the next “big one”. Biologists organized a series of planning sessions with Missouri's Departments of Conservation and Natural Resources to develop a statewide protocol for environmental emergency response incidents involving wildlife or sensitive habitats and a more formalized process to conduct a Natural Resource Damage Assessment at spills. Natural Resource Damage Assessment is a process in which the impacts to fish and wildlife resources are documented and projects are designed to restore habitats back to pre-spill conditions, or otherwise compensate the public for lost resources. No formal assessment was conducted for the Gasconade River spill due to the lack of protocols established within the state at that time.

Columbia contaminants biologists have also worked closely with US EPA on spill planning and preparedness. EPA is preparing a series of spill contingency plans and exercises for which CMFO EC biologists have provided input on how to avoid or minimize impacts to listed species and sensitive habitats. The spill preparedness activities have included developing the Great Rivers Sub-Area Spill Plan for the region in and around the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers including parts of Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas; helping with natural resource damage assessment, spill response, and wildlife rescue training at Lake Wappapello, Missouri (with substantial input and content from Mike Coffey of the Rock Island Illinois Field Office and USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service); and a reconnaissance on the Missouri River in an effort to identify pallid sturgeon habitat and sensitive areas of the Big Muddy National Wildlife Refuge.

Finally, Mr. Mosby participated in a table top spill exercise with Spectra Energy involving a theoretical pipeline rupture of 2,500 barrels of sweet crude into the Platte River in northwest Missouri. He integrated into the Incident Command System and helped consult on sensitive habitats, listed species, and notification of state spill coordinators.

Engaging state, local, and other federal agencies as well as industry personnel on spill planning should enable Co.umbia's environmental contaminants biologists to better protect fish and wildlife resources from the next “big one”. However, our Christmas wish list for in 2013 will definitely not include a spill of any size.

Contact Info: Dave Mosby, 573-234-2132 Ext. 113, dave_mosby@fws.gov
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