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More than a million gallons of oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico, potentially endangering endangered species

The U.S. Coast Guard said Monday that about 1.1 million gallons of crude oil had spilled into the Gulf of Mexico near a pipeline off the coast of Louisiana. Officials are concerned about the potential impact of oil on endangered and threatened species.

The Coast Guard first reported seeing the spill Friday, saying a crew had identified the leak. In their latest update Tuesday, officials said the leak was near the company’s 67-mile-long Main Pass Oil Gathering pipeline system near Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana. It was not clear when the leak began, but officials said the pipeline was shut down at 6:30 a.m. Thursday.

A 95-foot Clean Gulf Associates response vessel skims crude oil approximately 4 miles southeast of South Pass Louisiana, Nov. 17, 2023. A unified command comprised of Coast Guard, Main Pass Oil Gathering Company , LLC and the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator The Office is coordinating actions to assess, contain and mitigate the impact of the spill.

U.S. Coast Guard photo, courtesy of Clean Gulf Associates

“The volume of oil spilled is currently unknown,” officials said Tuesday. “…Initial engineering calculations indicate that the potential volume of crude oil that could have been released from the affected pipeline is 1.1 million gallons.”

On Facebook, the Coast Guard said the oil was “skimmed and sampled” Friday about four miles southeast of South Pass, Louisiana, and at that time they recovered about 210 gallons of “oil-water mixture”. Additional oil was recovered Sunday about 13 miles southeast of the parish.

Photos of the oil spill show large globules and long slicks of oil floating on the surface of the Gulf.

A 95-foot Quick Response Vessel from Clean Gulf Associates samples a globule of crude oil approximately 13 miles southeast of South Pass Louisiana, Nov. 19, 2023. A unified command comprised of the Coast Guard, Pass Oil Main Gathering Company, LLC and Louisiana’s Office of the Oil Spill Coordinator are coordinating actions to assess, contain and mitigate the impact of the spill.

U.S. Coast Guard photo, courtesy of Clean Gulf Associates

Plaquemines Parish officials wrote on Facebook over the weekend that they were “monitoring the incident” but have not posted any further updates.

For now, it is still unclear where the oil leak came from. The Coast Guard said Tuesday that remotely operated vehicles had been deployed to inspect the pipeline, but that there was “no discovery of a source area at this time.”

“Vehicles will continue to inspect the pipeline as weather conditions permit,” the agency said. “The Unified Command is working diligently to determine the source of the release. No injuries or shoreline impacts have been reported at this time.”

Matt Rota, senior policy director for Healthy Gulf, told CBS affiliate WWL-TV that the amount of oil reportedly spilled could still increase.

“Especially when the estimates come from the companies…their commercial interest is to show that the lower amount is taken out because they are subject to fines,” Rota said.

NOAA is helping to oversee the incident, and the agency’s emergency operations coordinator Doug Helton told WWL that it’s not necessarily the amount of oil, but its impact, that is of most concern .

“There are endangered and threatened species in Louisiana waters. Most of the Louisiana coast is wetlands and marshes, and these areas are generally considered very sensitive to oil,” a he declared. “…Even if it doesn’t happen on land, that doesn’t mean it’s an incident that we can just ignore. There are a lot of things that live in the gulf.”

Turtles are “probably one of the biggest concerns we could have,” he said.

Just north of the spill and Plaquemines Parish are the Chandeleur Islands, where last year the largest endangered sea turtle species, Kemp’s Ridley, was found hatching for the first time in three-quarters of a century. This species is the smallest species of sea turtle in the world, considered endangered in the United States since 1970. Globally, it is considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation nature and natural resources, meaning it is at “extremely high risk of extinction”. in nature.”

The Gulf is also home to what are considered some of the most endangered whales in the world.

NOAA revealed last year that Rice’s whales, which can grow longer than a full-sized school bus, are the only baleen whales known to inhabit Gulf waters. They are primarily located between Louisiana and Florida, and NOAA estimates there are fewer than 100 whales left. Pipelines pose a major risk to their existence, scientists warn.

“Continued oil and gas development in the Gulf poses a clear existential threat to the survival and recovery of the whale,” a group of 100 scientists said in a letter to the Biden administration last year. “The government’s Natural Resource Damage Assessment from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill estimates that nearly 20 percent of whales in the Gulf of Mexico have been killed, with other animals suffering from reproductive failure and disease .”

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