A rusting tanker is blocking the southern entrance to a fresh water supply that serves hundreds of thousands of people in the American region.
Members of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) said a “significant drenching” or a leak from the 222-foot (67-meter) ExxonMobil Pegasus crude oil tanker on the Mississippi River would seriously harm a system that supplies drinking water for 9 million people.
“It would have a significant impact on the distribution of drinking water in the region that may be impacted,” said Paul Johnston, chair of the ASCE’s Americas Water Division, a panel of experts who assessed the region’s drinking water infrastructure.
The Class 3 oil is seeping from a rusty valve near the former Krotz Springs, Louisiana, refinery which has been leaking for years.
“It’s really concerning,” Johnston told Efe. “Because (of) the threat of a drenching storm, the gasoline spill should be quite extensive and quite perhaps toxic to nearby waterways.”
The main canal to the Mississippi River does not belong to ExxonMobil, although the company said it has been paying for damage caused by leaks since 2008.
“Our lines are disconnected. It’s all the way down at the bend, so we are not involved. We are not liable for the cleanup of the problem, so there is a different end up there,” ExxonMobil spokesman Alan Jeffers told Efe.
“The cause of the release is well-understood and we have a cap in place, so there is no risk to the river system at this time. I will let you work it out,” he said.
The southernmost entrance to the river from Louisiana is a Pascagoula terminal operated by American Petroleum Pipeline, which was upgraded in 2015 to allow train cars to discharge crude oil and gasoline there.
“With the exception of the first spill, it has been the best project ever,” operator American Petroleum Pipeline told Efe.
In 2008, a drenching storm in southeastern Louisiana inundated the riverbanks, engulfing or killing the village of Venice.
“The government has been doing a good job since then on limiting the damage from any spill,” said Justin Albright, a Louisiana Department of Natural Resources division director who was in Venice at the time of the overflow.
The spilled oil from the tanker has had a mixed impact, according to Johnston, because it is adulterated with a chemical dispersant that protects fish and marine life from it.
The waters nearby are acidic, which makes it easy for the organism to digest crude.
The deep-water system depends on a system of pumps and pumps at the canal terminal to send water upriver to the aquifers that supply people and industries.
“It really looks like Groundhog Day,” Johnston said. “This issue is occurring over and over and over and over and over again. It’s going to take a lot of effort to fix it.”
French company Bourbon moved to the region in the 18th century and became the area’s main oil refinery.
Two weeks after the ExxonMobil Pegasus oil tanker hit the exposed main break, it prompted a warning of “possible widespread environmental contamination” and a voluntary halt of operations at three refineries, including one of Houston-based Chevron.
The Federal Maritime Commission said it has appointed a board to determine whether “temporary compensation” is necessary. EFE