300,000 Gallons of Diesel Fuel Spill Outside New Orleans After Corroded Pipeline Ruptures

More than 300,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled near a levee outside of New Orleans in December after a corroded pipeline ruptured.

The spill was discovered on December 27 in St. Bernard Parish, east of New Orleans, but it wasn't reported to the public. The pipeline was operated by Collins Pipeline Co, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration documents.

The diesel spilled in an environmentally sensitive area contaminating the soil and affecting local wildlife. A large pool of fuel was found just a few hundred feet away from the Mississippi River, according to documents.

Roughly 50,000 gallons of diesel were recovered after the initial spill, but the cleanup efforts for the remaining spillage are still underway, according to the documents.

The animals that were affected by the spill were taken to receive care by a cleanup company nearby, St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis said.

The corrosion on the pipe was known about for more than a year prior to the spill. Repairs were delayed and pipeline officials said the company had reduced the line's pressure in November of 2020 and again in November of 2021 because it had yet to be repaired within federal time requirements.

Pipeline Spill Louisiana
A corroded pipeline ruptured in December, spilling over 300,000 gallons of diesel fuel outside of New Orleans. Above, floating barriers known as booms set up to try to stop further incursion into the Wetlands Talbert Marsh after an oil spill in Huntington Beach, California, on October 4, 2021. Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP Photo

In October of 2020, an inspection of the 42-year-old Meraux Pipeline revealed external corrosion along a 22-foot (7-meter) section of pipe in the same area as the spill. But repairs were delayed and the line continued operating after a subsequent inspection indicated the corrosion was not bad enough to require work immediately under federal regulations, according to the pipeline agency.

Diesel is considered a highly toxic petroleum product that can kill fish and plants that come into direct contact with it, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Fuel from small spills can evaporate or disperse naturally in just a couple of days but larger spills can take months to naturally degrade.

A pipeline safety advocate said it was "maddening" that the corrosion was known about for more than a year prior to the spill yet fuel kept flowing through the 125-mile-long (200-kilometer-long) line from a refinery in Chalmette to a storage terminal in Collins, Mississippi.

"It's especially maddening to learn that Collins Pipeline's initial analysis deemed the pipe in such poor condition that it warranted an immediate repair," said Bill Caram with the Pipeline Safety Trust. The Bellingham, Washington-based organization advocates for more stringent oversight of the nation's sprawling network of pipelines transporting oil, natural gas and other hazardous fuels.

Collins Pipeline is a subsidiary of Parsippany, New Jersey-based PBF Energy Inc. Company representatives did not immediately respond to email and telephone messages seeking comment.

In a December 30 order for the line to remain shut down until repairs have been completed, federal officials said based on preliminary reports that the probable cause of the spill was "likely localized corrosion and metal loss."

A PBF Energy representative had said in an October 2021 email to federal pipeline regulators that the company was still awaiting federal and state approval to repair the corrosion found in the vicinity of where the spill occurred, according to federal records.

That work was anticipated to begin later this month once the company received permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, PBF Energy regulatory compliance director Thomas McLane said in the email.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.