WASHINGTON (AP) – Federal and state agencies say they are responding to reports of oil and chemical spills resulting from Hurricane Ida following the publication of aerial photos by The Associated Press.
Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Nick Conger said Thursday that a special plane carrying photographic and chemical detection equipment was sent from Texas to Louisiana to fly over the area hard hit by the Category 4 storm. , including a Phillips 66 refinery along the Mississippi River where the PA first reported an apparent oil spill on Wednesday.
Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer 3rd Class Gabriel Wisdom said Thursday his plane had also flown over the refinery, as well as toward the Gulf of Mexico. The AP released photos of a brownish-black slick several miles long in the waters south of Port Fourchon, Louisiana.
The AP first reported possible spills Wednesday after reviewing aerial images of the disaster area taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Ida made landfall on Sunday, her eyewall traversing Louisiana with winds of 150 mph and a storm surge so powerful that it temporarily reversed the flow of the mighty Mississippi.
NOAA photos showed a black and brown slick floating near a large rig bearing the name Enterprise Offshore Drilling painted on its helipad. The Houston-based company said Thursday its Enterprise 205 platform had been secured and safely evacuated before the storm arrived and had suffered no damage.
“Company staff returned to the facility on September 1 and confirmed the integrity of all systems and that no release to the environment has occurred from our facility,” the company said in a statement.
Sandy Day, a spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau of Environmental Safety and Enforcement, which regulates oil rigs, confirmed receiving a report on Wednesday about the oil spill that the PA had released photos of. But the location was within state waters, rather than federal jurisdiction further offshore.
Patrick Courreges, spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, said his agency had no way to physically investigate the spill.
“It’s going to take us a while before we can make our way over there,” Courrèges said Thursday. “We don’t have planes, helicopters or boats sailing in the Gulf.
Aerial photos taken by a NOAA plane on Tuesday also showed extensive flooding at the massive Phillips 66 Alliance refinery in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. In some sections of the refinery, a rainbow glow and black streaks were visible on the water leading towards the river.
In statements released Monday and Tuesday, Phillips 66 said “water” was inside the refinery, but did not respond to questions about environmental risks.
It was only after the AP sent the company photos showing severe flooding and what appeared to be oil in the water to the company on Wednesday, that the company confirmed that it had “discovered a burst of unknown origin in some flooded areas of the Alliance refinery ”.
“For now, the shard appears to be secure and contained within the refinery,” Phillips 66 spokesman Bernardo Fallas said Wednesday evening, three days after the hurricane hit. “Cleaning teams are on site. The incident was reported to the appropriate regulatory agencies upon discovery. “
Although Fallas called the spill a “shard of unknown origin,” Phillips 66’s report to Louisiana regulators on Wednesday called it “heavy oil in flood water,” according to a newspaper appeals from the state provided to the PA. The newspaper also contained a call from an oyster fisherman concerned that contamination of the refinery water could clog environmentally sensitive beds downstream.
Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Greg Langley said on Wednesday that a state assessment team had been dispatched to the refinery and observed an oil spill on-site treated with booms and absorbent pads. A dike meant to protect the plant had broken, allowing floodwaters to drain during the storm, and then back up again as the surge subsided.
Langley said there was no estimate available of how much oil could have spilled from the refinery.
Louisiana regulators were following about 100 reports of chemical and oil spills statewide on Wednesday. Reports ranged from sunken boats with diesel leaks to overturned fuel tanks and flooded pipelines, according to the appeals log. Several chemical companies have also reported venting or burning toxic chemicals due to a loss of electricity.
Stephanie Morris, spokesperson for the Louisiana Oil Spills Coordinator’s Office, said that four days after Ida’s coup, state regulators were still in the very early stages of responding to the environmental dangers posed by storm. She said a state plane flew over the affected area, focusing more on identifying ongoing threats than quantifying what had already leaked into the water and air.
“We’re in what we call the rapid assessment phase, because we’re trying to assess it from the air,” Morris said. “We just have an idea of what’s out there and the locations. We don’t yet have an idea of what the sources of shine or volume might be. “
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