A severely corroded pipeline ruptured and spilled more than 300,000 gallons of diesel fuel just outside New Orleans after needed repairs on the line were delayed by its operator, officials said.
Most of the fuel drained into two artificial 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 line operated by Collins Pipeline Co. was discovered December 27 near a levee in St. Bernard Parish, 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 operating after a subsequent inspection indicated the corrosion was not bad enough to require work immediately under federal regulations, according to the pipeline agency.
The spilled fuel also contaminated soil in an environmentally sensitive area near the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a closed canal, according to state and federal officials. A small amount of diesel remains in the two borrow pits, said Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Gregory Langley.
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, a spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Nearly 130 animals, 72 alligators, 23 birds, 20 snakes and 12 turtles were captured for rehabilitation, he said.
Diesel is a highly toxic petroleum product that can kill fish and plants that come into direct contact with it, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Fuel from small spills can evaporate or disperse naturally in just a couple of days but larger spills can take months to degrade.