PORT FOURCHON, La. (AP) -Pictures show what appears to be a mile-long oil slick near an offshore kingdom in the Gulf of Mexico after Hurricane Ida, according to images from aerial measurements released Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and reviewed by the Associated Press.
Government photos, along with additional photos taken by the AP from a helicopter Tuesday, also show Louisiana port facilities, oil refineries and shipyards in the storm’s path, where the rainy rainbow glare typical of oil and fuel spills is visible in the water in bays and bayous.
Both state and federal regulators said Wednesday they had not been able to reach the affected area citing challenging conditions in the disaster zone.
The NOAA images show a black smooth floating in the bay near a large rig named Enterprise Offshore Drilling painted on its helipad. The Houston-based company did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment by phone or email.
Aerial photos taken by NOAA Tuesday also show significant flooding to the massive Phillips 66 Alliance Refinery along the banks of the Mississippi River, just south of New Orleans. In some parts of the refinery, rainbow glare is visible on the water leading to the river.
Asked about reports of dive failures near the refinery on Monday, Phillips 66 spokesman Bernardo Fallas said there was “some water” in the plant and stressed that operations were shut down ahead of the storm. Asked Tuesday about potential environmental hazards from the facility, Fallas referred a reporter to a statement on the company’s website that its response is focused “on ensuring the safety and well-being of our employees and our environment.”
After the AP sent Phillips 66 photos on Wednesday showing extensive flooding at its refinery and what appeared to be oil in the water, Fallas admitted via email that the company could confirm that it had “discovered a luster of unknown origin in some flooded areas in Alliance Refinery. “
“At this point, it seems the brilliance is secured and contained within refineries,” Fallas said Wednesday night. “Cleanup crews are on site. The incident was reported to the relevant supervisory authorities upon discovery.”
Fallas did not respond when asked if the leak was reported after the AP sent the company photos four hours earlier.
Phillips listed Alliance Refinery for sale last week before the storm hit, citing poor market conditions.
In all, seven Louisiana refineries remained closed Wednesday. Together, they account for about 9% of all U.S. refining capacity, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Some refineries on the Mississippi River reported damage to their docks from barges that broke loose during the storm.
Jennah Durant, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency, said on Wednesday that the agency had not received reports of significant spills or other environmental threats after the Category 4 storm landed in Port Fourchon on Sunday with 240 km / h wind.
Three days after the storm moved through, Durant said Wednesday that no EPA personnel had yet been deployed to the devastated region south of New Orleans. Asked if EPA staff had reviewed aerial photos taken of federal aircraft over the disaster zone, Durant said the image had not been provided to the agency.
The aerial photo that AP has reviewed is easily accessible to the public on NOAA’s website.
After the AP sent photos of the oil spill to the EPA on Wednesday, the agency’s press secretary Nick Conger said the National Response Center hotline, operated by the U.S. Coast Guard, had received 26 calls reporting leaks or spills in the storm zone, but none had warranted a response. from the EPA. .
Conger reiterated that any person or organization responsible for a significant release or spill of pollutants must notify the federal government.
The AP also provided photos of the oil braid to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, which regulates offshore drilling in state waters. Spokesman Patrick Courreges confirmed that the agency had received an informal report on petroleum glare in the waters south of Port Fourchon, but said regulators “currently do not have options to get out there yet.”
The U.S. Bureau of Security and Environmental Enforcement, which regulates offshore oil and gas platforms, announced before the hurricane arrived that about half of the 560 manned rigs in the Gulf had been evacuated. These crews had only begun to leak out again on Wednesday, and it was unclear whether the Enterprise Offshore rig was manned.
The Bureau’s staff responsibilities did not respond on Wednesday after the AP sent photos of the black slippery in the Gulf and asked if there were any reports of a spill.
Both state and federal environmental regulators said emergency preparedness for Ida had been hampered by blocked roads, washed-out bridges, electrical outages and lack of communication. Both phone lines and cell phone service in large parts of the region remained offline on Wednesday.
“I think most agencies are a bit caught up in the whole ‘fog of war’ at the moment, with far more places we need to be than we can be,” Courreges wrote in an email. “It’s not as easy to react to things right now.”
Port Fourchon, which took a direct hit from the storm, is the primary service hub for hundreds of offshore oil and gas rigs. The port also contains oil terminals and pipelines, which account for about 90% of Gulf oil and gas production.
Photos taken by the AP from a chartered helicopter on Tuesday as well as NOAA photos show extensive damage to the extensive facility, including sunken vessels, collapsed structures and more than a dozen large overturned fuel tanks.
Ida’s winds, similar to an EF3 tornado, tore the roofs of large steel buildings in the harbor and knocked down metal rods. Trucks, cranes and shipping containers were stacked in mixed piles.
Chett Chiasson, CEO of the Greater Lafourche Port Commission, told the AP late Tuesday that the companies based in Port Fourchon were heading into what would likely be a long recovery phase. A top priority, he said, would be to clear roads and remove sunken vessels so boats can sail safely into port.
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