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Corroded pipeline bursts in St. Bernard, killing thousands of fish, animals

The spill started in December, more than a year after that section of pipe was identified as needing immediate repair.

ST BERNARD, La. — A severely corroded pipeline ruptured, contaminating an environmentally sensitive area in St. Bernard Parish with more than 300,000 gallons of diesel fuel, killing thousands of fish and other wildlife.

The spill started more than two weeks ago in a 16-inch steel pipe operated by Collins Pipeline Co.

That was already more than a year after the section of pipe was identified as needing immediate repair, but pipeline officials complained they were still waiting on permits to start the work. 

TV crews were kept about a half a mile Thursday from where the diesel spilled into the wetlands between Bayou Bienvenue and the now-closed Mississippi River Gulf Outlet. 

Much of the fuel ended up in two artificial ponds called “borrow pits.” Some of it also polluted the nearby marsh. 

“The pipe’s fixed and it’s going to be a long cleanup,” St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis said. “We don’t know exactly what that entails, but we’re trying to get some of that information.” 

The spill has already killed more than 2,500 fish and more than 100 animals, according to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. 

Soiled birds, alligators, snakes, and other creatures are now being cleaned in a warehouse on Paris Road. Some of the animals will eventually be released in nearby Bayou Sauvage, in New Orleans East. 

“The good thing is it was contained in a small area from what we understand now,” McInnis said.  

The Collins Pipeline, installed in the 1970s, is 124.5 miles long, with 48 miles in Louisiana and the rest in Mississippi.

Collins Pipeline Co. is a subsidiary of PBF Energy Inc., which owns the Chalmette Refinery in St. Bernard. 

Federal records show an inspection of the entire pipeline in 2020 revealed severe corrosion along a 22-foot section of pipe at the same site as the spill. 

Records from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration show that section of pipe on the MRGO Levee in St. Bernard and another section in Hutchinson Island, Miss., near Picayune, were designated as issues requiring immediate repair in November 2020.

Almost a year later, on October 26, 2021, PBF Energy’s compliance director, Thomas McLane, wrote to federal regulators to say the Mississippi “anomaly” was fixed but the company was still waiting on permits for the MRGO Levee repair.

“For the MRGO repair we have received approval from LDNR (Louisiana Department of Natural Resources), however, USACE (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) & CPRA (Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority) are still under review, and Levee Board conducted/approv(ed) their initial review October 5th. Our expectation is that all of the agency permits will be complete early January and weather permitting, we’ll start the work end of January and complete the work in 5 weeks,” McLane wrote.

They never got that far before the leak started in late December. Parish leaders say they were notified about the spill on December 28, the day after it was discovered. But the public didn’t learn about it until this week. 

So far, crews have recovered about 7,700 gallons of the 300,000 gallons of diesel that spilled. 

“I believe this is going to be a long-term cleanup,” McInnis said.  

Federal regulators have opened 6 enforcement cases against the company since 2007, including a “failure investigation” in December 2021. But federal records don’t indicate what that investigation revealed. The records also indicate no hazardous spill incidents had been reported for the Collins Pipeline since 2004, not even the one currently being addressed.

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