300 gallons of oil spill into Mississippi River after barge breakaway

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by KMOV.com staff and Associated Press

KMOV.com

Posted on May 3, 2013 at 6:54 AM

Updated Friday, May 3 at 5:47 PM

(KMOV.com) -- Roughly 300 gallons of crude oil spilled early Friday into the Mississippi River near St. Louis after a vessel on the rain-swollen waterway slammed into a fleet of docked barges, causing 14 of them to briefly break away, according to the Coast Guard.

Officials said the incident happened near Alton around 12:45 a.m.

The incident happened as a large tow boat was pushing 12 barges around a bend in the river. One of the barges broke free and drifted into the stationary vessels.

Coast Guard Lieutenant Colin Fogerty said the barges collided with several facilities, including one pumping crude oil onto a barge. Fogerty said the hose came off when the barge broke and pumped about 300 gallons of crude oil into the river.

None of the oil was found to have washed up on the river’s banks as of mid-morning Friday, though crews still were assessing the possible environmental fallout of the spill—the equivalent of seven barrels.

“The Mississippi River is incredibly dynamic and now moving so fast with so much sediment that it has to break down the oil,” swiftly sending it downstream, Fogarty said, crediting a worker with quickly shutting off the oil that was being loaded onto one of the barge, blunting the severity of the spill.

The intake for St. Louis drinking water, located near the Chain of Rocks Bridge, will likely not be impacted by the spill. Officials say with the speed of the waterway, the oil will not spread to the western side of the river and come in contact with the intake.

The accident forced about an hour-long closure of a four-mile stretch of the river on a night when heavy rainfall pummeled the region, swelling the river and its currents that in recent weeks have proven especially troublesome to shippers.

The tow boat captain has more than 20 years of experience, and investigators are examining the cause of the breakaway. 

“The high water undoubtedly played some factor, even if a small one in this instance,” Fogarty said, noting the waterway’s strong current makes it difficult for vessels such as the one that hit the barges “to put the brakes on.”

“It makes navigation significantly more difficult,” he said.

Friday’s accident came less than two weeks after the fast-moving Mississippi broke 114 barges loose from their moorings just south of St. Louis, four of them hit the Jefferson Barracks Bridge and 11 of the cargo vessels sank. That forced a shutdown of a 15-mile stretch of the waterway and the six-hour closure of the bridge that inspectors ultimately said escaped significant damage.

Fogarty has said that breakaway could have been caused by various factors related to the elevated current of the rain-swollen river.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

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