The above picture is an oil spill in Murphy, from the Chalmette refinery, taken from the report by Environmental News Service which has little additional information. The only other widely read sources I have found are an article in the Houston Chronicle with a lot of detail, and two pieces coming from the other side of the Atlantic, in the Financial Times and the Guardian.

First of all, kudos to the Houston Chronicle. They are close to the best sources (the oil companies themselves), and they have gathered pretty detailed information. Pity it does not appear to be distributed much more widely:

Oil spill adds to woes of a Louisiana town

As if the residents of Chalmette, La., didn’t have enough to worry about with entire neighborhoods underwater, this week an oil spill coated homes, cars, animals and streets in crude.

According to the Coast Guard, Hurricane Katrina appears to have caused more damage — both onshore and offshore — to energy industry infrastructure than first suspected.

Millions of gallons of crude oil burst forth from ruptured storage terminals and pipelines in Louisiana, stretching from Chalmette, just southeast of New Orleans, down to Empire, Venice and Pilottown at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

The leaking facilities are owned by Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Murphy Oil and Bass Enterprises Production, run by the Bass family of Fort Worth.

And offshore, the Coast Guard said 52 oil and gas production platforms sank in the storm and 58 were damaged.

(…)

Some of the onshore oil spills appear to be contained, including the 3.4 million gallon spill at Bass Enterprises’ tank near Venice. A company spokesman said the levy ring around the facility is half full of crude.

(…)

Other crude spills, such as Murphy Oil’s leak in Chalmette, were borne on the water and quickly spread outside the facility’s boundaries.

Murphy Oil spokeswoman Mindy West said roughly 890,000 gallons of oil were spilled, but she could not say how much of that escaped into Chalmette neighborhoods.

Chevron lost 966,000 gallons of crude oil from one tank at its Empire terminal.

The location stymied cleanup crews at first because of the lack of electricity, phone service and open roads into the area. Crews arrived by boat and helicopter.


MORE BELOW:
The article has more detail on each of the spills. The oil companies are making efforts to contain the oil, but have not succeeded everywhere. Thus the picture above, where the dark stuff is clearly invading neighboroods which can safely be considered lost for a bit of time.

The Financial Times has essentially the same information, but it was published at least a day before (it was posted at 9 pm EST on Thursday) and does not seemed to have been widely picked up since.

Ruptured oil tanks ‘spill 3.7m gallons’

Oil storage tanks ruptured by Hurricane Katrina may have dumped as much as 3.7m gallons of crude oil into the lower Mississippi river and surrounding wetlands.

Officials estimate the spillage at roughly a third of the volume of the huge spill when the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground off Alaska in 1989. Last night experts said they could not yet assess the short-term effects of the spills but were hopeful there would be few long-term effects. Some of the oil is expected to find its way into the Gulf of Mexico.

Finally, the Guardian has the most extensive reporting, in a must read article this morning. Just a few highlights here:

Oil spills, ravaged industry and lost islands add to the hurricane’s toll

Ecological cost of Katrina includes petrochemical pollution, vanished islands and a seafood industry facing ruin

The extent of the environmental damage inflicted on the southern US states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama began to emerge yesterday with reports of an entire group of islands disappearing, serious oil slicks and the potential ruin of the seafood industry.
Immediate concern centred on Louisiana’s heavy industrial area. Katrina flooded many of the 140 large petrochemical works that line the Mississippi river between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and little assessment has been done of the damage.

Initial aerial reconnaissance by the environmental protection agency suggests no serious chemical damage but has revealed several large oil spills. About 85,000 barrels of crude is now known to have escaped from a Murphy Oil plant in Chalmette, Louisiana, and a further 68,000 barrels were spilled by a damaged storage tank at the Bass Enterprises site in Venice.

(…)

“The 40-mile long Chandeleur chain of barrier islands off the Louisiana coast which used to protect the delta from storm surges have pretty well gone,” said Laurence Rouse, of the oceanography department at Louisiana State University. “The delta is definitely under more threat now. Great damage has also been done to the important wetlands and marshes east of New Orleans which also act as defences. They have been ripped up.”

(…)

On land, the environmental protection agency warned people to take precautions against an explosion of mosquitoes which could be carrying West Nile fever and said 73 drinking water systems were still affected in Alabama, 555 in Mississippi and 469 in Louisiana.

More than 500 sewerage systems were damaged across Louisiana.

(…)

Some 6,600 petrol stations, each with an average of three underground storage tanks, must be inspected for leaks, as well as hundreds of industrial facilities that could be releasing contaminants to add to the air and water pollution. The task of clearing up to 90m tonnes of debris has barely been contemplated.

(…)

“The problem is that a century of long-term industrial pollution held in the soil is being released. A lot of this is being pumped into Lake Pontchartrin. The ecology is definitely being changed,” Prof Rouse said.

Read the rest. The most worrying are the calls to relax environmental standards today to deal with the aftermath of the hurricane. While that may be understood to solve the direst emergencies, it appears incredibly short-sighted. The article makes clear that it is the accumulated environmental damage that has made the damage so extensive this time: the natural protections in the wetlands and the Islands gone, the channeling of the river, and the natural accretion of toxic products in our industrial economy, products which were obviously not stored in hurricane-proof or flood-proof locations.

As Meteor Blades wrote in a recent diary, this disaster should be an opportunity to do better, not to relax our standards. This should also apply to the care taken to follow, and even improve on, environmental guidelines for industry. I have few illusions that this will happen, but if there ever was an occasion to see the price of not doing it, this is the one, and progressives should certainly say it loudly: environmental rules are not a burden, they are a smart investment.

Remember this diary from Devilstower about the coal industry: it will behave well, and apply the highest standards, only if it is forced to; it needs both to be shamed into doing it, and the permanent oversight of a tough regulator. Same for the oil industry.

THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO RELAX ENVIRONMENTAL STANDARDS, QUITE THE OPPOSITE. Even if it appears to be more expensive, it is worth it.

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