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July 25, 2008

Big Clean-Up in the Big Easy

Posted: 11:14 AM ET

On Wednesday, a 600-foot tanker and a river barge collided on a spot of the Mississippi River that I, as a Louisiana native and frequent New Orleans visitor, know well.

Tugboats hold up parts of a barge that collided with a tanker. The collision spilled 419,000 gallons of oil.

After splitting in half, the barge proceeded to spill an estimated 419,000 gallons or 9,980 barrels of oil into the mighty Mississippi. According to the Coast Guard, the pilot of the tugboat pushing the barge was not properly licensed. Crews are working to contain and clean up the spill, but the environmental damages of the accident are still unknown.

Concern is growing over the quality and supply of drinking water in parishes downstream from the accident. Many of these areas normally pump from the Mississippi River for their drinking water supply but are now trucking in bottle water to help ease concerns of shortages.

(Ironically, one of these parishes, St. Bernard Parish, was not only one of the areas ravaged the worst by Hurricane Katrina, but also the same parish soaked in more than 1 million gallons of oil after the storm’s winds dislodged an above ground storage tank at a nearby oil refinery.)

Oil spills from transportation vessels are nothing new. Most of us remember the Exxon Valdez accident off the coast of Alaska in 1989 which spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound. Fortunately, legislation like the 1990 Oil Pollution Act has contributed to a substantial drop in both spill incidents and volumes, but vessel spills still happen frequently. According a 2007 American Petroleum Institute study, 174 vessel spills occurred in 2005.

With river shipping halted, and drinking water and the environment threatened, many Louisianans are upset that accidents like this one still occur. But events like Wednesday’s spill are extremely rare relative to the amount of oil refined and transported in our state and nation everyday. If anything, it’s in the Louisiana oil industry’s interest to keep spills at a minimum. No one wants to see our $65 billion-a-year industry be saddled with any more bad press or regulations.

So here’s the crux of the situation. Its no secret that, while rare, pipellines can break, tanks can be blown over, and ships can collide. Is there truly anyway we can eliminate these risks or are they simply the cost of doing business?

Julia Griffin, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: environment • Gasoline • oil spills • science

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JAy.   July 25th, 2008 11:53 am ET


Thanks for the honest, open, and overall positive tone of your article. As an employee of the energy industry, I am often dismayed by the general resentment of the public and press towards the energy lifeblood of our society. Without oil, gasoline, and natural gas, our world would cease to function.

Overall, this is an industry that is very safe and environmentally responsible. For example, in 2007, ExxonMobil had no spills by ExxonMobil operated transportation vessels. And since the Exxon Valdez tragedy, ExxonMobil averages less than 1 teaspoon of spilled oil per million barrels transported.

Yes, every spill is bad. Yes, every accident is avoidable. But Americans spill more gasoline at gas stations than the companies spill during production, processing, and transportation of that gasoline.

Remember, everyone is responsible for caring for the environement, not just the big companies.

Franko   July 26th, 2008 1:20 am ET

Risk management has improved, only occasional eco-disasters.
The price of oil is so high, protection of every drop is a must.
To loose a drop, and clean it up, is a double loss

Tuttle   July 27th, 2008 11:04 am ET

As an ex-environmental employee in an oil refinery, I agree that spills can probably not be completely eliminated. People are in charge of moving oil and people make mistakes. However, most of the spills and accidents can be avoided. It is common for refinery management to delay required maintenance for six months because "dollar margins are real good right now", and then to delay for another six months, because "everything is still working fine". Then when something breaks, blows up, catches fire, etc, they either say "oops" or "there was a weak spot in a pipeline caused by wear.

In my opinion, lobbyists, de-regulation, and government inaction has allowed the oil companies to purchase/own the entire energy production stream. They own or control (through subsidiaries) the drilling lease, drilling company, transportation system, refineries, distribution system and retail outlets. The recent major oil company mergers and joint ventures have all but eliminated competition, so I am not at all surprised that fuel prices have risen.

Fuel prices won't come down significantly until alternative energy sources become competitive, then they will be reduced to the point the alternative energy companies are forced out of business, at which point the prices will rise again.

Rai   April 30th, 2010 1:49 pm ET

Drill baby, drill!

Jocelyn Peterson   October 5th, 2010 10:53 am ET

oil spills should be controlled as soon as possible to prevent environmental damage;;'

Halogen Cooker    October 20th, 2010 8:46 am ET

oil spills can really damage the environment so bad that it would take years to repair the damage;".

Styrofoam Sheets ·   November 3rd, 2010 7:11 pm ET

the oil spill in mexico really affected the eco system around that area, it would take years to clean those mess ""

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