NOAA's Response and Restoration Blog

An inside look at the science of cleaning up and fixing the mess of marine pollution


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What Do Hanford’s Latest Nuclear Waste Leaks Mean for Environmental Restoration?

This is a post by Vicki Loe and Charlene Andrade.

Some of the older nuclear waste storage tanks at Hanford in southeast Washington.

Some of the older nuclear waste storage tanks at Hanford in southeast Washington. (U.S. Department of Energy)

This past February, the U.S. Department of Energy confirmed that six additional nuclear waste storage tanks are leaking at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington. This revelation has drawn attention once again to the ongoing challenges of assessing, cleaning up, and restoring the environment around a massive nuclear waste site.

To understand how these six aging nuclear waste tanks might affect salmon, the sagebrush-filled desert ecosystem, and nearby Columbia River, it helps to understand more about Hanford’s history. In 1943, the Hanford Site was developed by the U.S. Government for the production of plutonium as part of the Manhattan Project that developed atomic bombs during World War II. The site continued to produce plutonium as well as nuclear energy until the last reactor stopped operating in 1987. The weapons production and nuclear energy operations at Hanford left dangerous and environmentally harmful solid and liquid waste, creating one of the largest and most complex cleanup projects in the U.S. That effort has been in progress since 1989.

Hanford’s 177 total storage tanks, some of which date from the 1940s, hold more than 50 million gallons of radioactive waste. These six leaking tanks are among 149 older “single-shell” tanks, which only have one liner. (Tanks constructed more recently feature “double-shells.”) However, these older tanks were designed for a lifespan of only about 20 years. According to Washington Governor Jay Inslee, “This certainly raises serious questions about the integrity of all 149 single-shell tanks with radioactive liquid and sludge at Hanford.”

One of the older waste storage tanks under construction at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

One of the older waste storage tanks under construction at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. (U.S. Department of Energy)

While tanks at the site have leaked in the past, news of these recently discovered leaks again raises concerns about the condition of the tanks and underscores the ongoing complexities of this assessment and cleanup.

The six leaking tanks pose no immediate threat to natural resources because they are located 200–300 feet above the groundwater table. The State of Washington indicates that there is no immediate or near-term health risk as the leaking tanks are located more than five miles from the Columbia River. In addition, measures are being taken to prevent contamination currently in the soil from entering the river.

While this latest discovery affects the ongoing cleanup, it does not change the focus of the Hanford Natural Resource Damage Assessment because the Hanford Natural Resource Trustee Council is already evaluating harm from contamination flowing into the Columbia River, which borders the site and is home to Chinook salmon and sturgeon. The council includes representatives from NOAA, three tribal organizations, the States of Washington and Oregon, and two other federal agencies. It is tasked with characterizing the cumulative impacts from decades of releases and contamination to the fish, wildlife, and the habitats they rely upon, and determining the cumulative restoration needed to replace, restore, and offset the total decades of damage.

Discovery of the additional leaking tanks illustrates the challenge of that task: to be able to measure the harm over time, even as new sources of contamination are discovered and await cleanup. Each source  can add to the cumulative impact and ultimately to the amount of restoration that will eventually be needed to offset damages.

For more information about the work of the Hanford Natural Resource Trustee Council, view the Hanford Natural Resource Damage Assessment Injury Assessment Plan, which describes how the council will characterize and quantify the past, ongoing, and future environmental impacts.


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Removal Operations Continue for Navy Mine Ship on Philippine Coral Reef

USS Guardian salvage operations

Aerial view of the vessels aiding in the dismantling process of the mine countermeasures ship Ex-Guardian, which ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef Jan. 17. The U.S. Navy continues to work in close cooperation with the Philippine authorities to safely dismantle Guardian from the reef while minimizing environmental effects. (U.S. Navy/Anderson Bomjardim)

You may recall that in January the Navy mine countermeasures ship USS Guardian ran aground on a coral reef in the Philippines, inside Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. The Navy removed the approximately 15,000 gallons of fuel aboard the ship and decided that the safest way to extract the Guardian from the reef was to deconstruct and carry it away in smaller sections.

Here are some interesting photos showing how the removal of the grounded “Ex-Guardian” (formerly USS Guardian) is progressing.

First, the superstructure (Wheelhouse and above deck structures) was removed as you can see in the top photo. Now the hull is being cut into sections and removed. Earlier this week the bow section, weighing approximately 250 tons, was lifted off the reef and placed onto an awaiting barge (bottom photo).

A crane vessel removes the bow of the mine countermeasure ship Ex-Guardian.

A crane vessel removes the bow of the mine countermeasure ship Ex-Guardian, which ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef, Jan. 17. The U.S. Navy and contracted salvage teams continue damage assessments and the removal of equipment and parts to prepare the grounded ship to be safely dismantled and removed from Tubbataha Reef. (U.S. Navy/Kelby Sanders)

The U.S. Navy has been working closely with the Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Navy, and Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park during the process.

For more information on the removal operations, check out http://www.cpf.navy.mil/news.aspx/010081

You can also find out more about how NOAA works to protect and restore coral reefs after ship groundings in some of our previous blog posts:


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Alcoa Aluminum Factories Settle $19.4 Million for Pollution of St. Lawrence River Watershed, Most Will Fund Restoration of Tribal Culture, Recreational Fishing, and Habitat

For decades, two Alcoa alumininum facilities discharged toxic PCBs into the St. Lawrence River, its tributaries the Grasse and Raquette Rivers, and the surrounding area in Massena, N.Y. Alcoa and Reynolds are paying $19.4 million to settle the resulting damages to natural resources. (NOAA)

For decades, two Alcoa alumininum facilities discharged toxic PCBs into the St. Lawrence River, its tributaries the Grasse and Raquette Rivers, and the surrounding area in Massena, N.Y. Alcoa and Reynolds are paying $19.4 million to settle the resulting damages to natural resources. (NOAA)

In the northern reaches of upstate New York, just across and upriver from Canada, two factories chug along. Both now owned by aluminum manufacturer Alcoa, these factories have been producing aluminum on the banks of the Grasse and St. Lawrence Rivers since 1903 and 1958. And like many other industries in the past, these two Alcoa plants in Massena, N.Y., discharged a stream of toxic pollutants into the water, air, and soil around them.

Now, only a few miles away, dozens of young Mohawk children at the Akwesasne Freedom School attempt to reclaim their Mohawk heritage and a connection with the natural world and traditional practices endangered in part by the area’s contaminated history.

Today, the majority of the $19.4 million settlement with Alcoa and the former Reynolds Metals Company will go toward healing past wounds to this rich ecological and cultural environment with a suite of proposed restoration projects.

A History of Pollution on the St. Lawrence

Starting in the late 1950s, Alcoa and Reynolds used polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in hydraulic fluid and electrical equipment as they produced aluminum at these two factories. Nearby, General Motors Central Foundry (GM) also used PCBs in the hydraulic fluids when building automotive engines and in electric equipment. The PCBs from these three facilities in turn made their way into the St. Lawrence River, its tributaries the Grasse and Raquette Rivers, and the surrounding area.

Banned in 1979, PCBs are a group of persistent and highly toxic compounds which, in addition to causing cancer in animals, affects growth, behavior, reproduction, immune response, and neurological development. Manufacturing activities at these three factories released a slew of other industrial pollutants [PDF] that impacted the environment, including aluminum, fluoride, cyanide, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs, a hazardous component of oil, coal, and tar).

In 2000, Alcoa purchased Reynolds and as a result, Reynolds’ facility is now known as Alcoa East. Its sister facility, Alcoa West, is the longest continually operating aluminum facility in the world. The third, now-shuttered, General Motors factory sits next door to Alcoa East and has already paid approximately $1.8 million for environmental restoration in separate bankruptcy proceedings. Combined with $18.5 million from Alcoa’s settlement, the Alcoa and GM settlements will provide approximately $20.3 million for specific projects to restore access to recreational fishing, fish and wildlife, and Mohawk traditional practices and language.

Moving Toward Environmental Restoration

The St. Lawrence Environmental Trustee Council, a group of federal, state, and tribal governments which includes NOAA, has coordinated with the companies to assess the damages to ecological resources, recreational fishing, and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s cultural resources. Due to the history of industrial pollution released from these factories into the St. Lawrence River watershed, the sediments, fish, birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians along the St. Lawrence, Grasse, and Raquette Rivers have all suffered. Under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, various cleanup activities, such as dredging and capping contaminated river sediments, have been attempting to remediate the polluted environment.

Improvements to spawning habitat and stocking of lake sturgeon is one of the restoration projects preferred by the natural resource trustees. (Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe)

Improvements to spawning habitat and stocking of lake sturgeon is one of the restoration projects preferred by the natural resource trustees. (Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe)

As part of a process that moves beyond cleanup, the trustees, led by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, have identified preferred recreational fishing, ecological, and cultural restoration projects to compensate the public for the resulting environmental injuries.

For example, contaminants from the three facilities degraded adult and juvenile fish habitat for species such as the American eel (currently being considered for Endangered Species Act protection) and the state-threatened lake sturgeon. The presence of toxic PCBs triggered fish consumption advisories for the St. Lawrence, Grasse, Raquette, and St. Regis Rivers. In place since 1984, these advisories have resulted in an estimated 221,000–250,000 fewer fishing trips on these rivers, both in the past and into the future. In response, four new boat launches will be constructed and one existing launch will be upgraded to provide shoreline and in-river fishing access points.

The trustees also will protect and restore wetland and upland habitat, enhance stream banks, improve impeded fish and other wildlife passage through the rivers, enhance fish stocks and spawning habitat, and restore bird habitat. The preferred restoration projects are described in the St. Lawrence River Environment Restoration Compensation and Determination Plan [PDF]. The public can comment on this plan and on the Alcoa $19.4 million natural resource damage settlement, which includes $18.5 million for restoration and nearly $1 million in reimbursement for past environmental assessment costs.

Reconnecting to the Natural World

One of the most creative examples of the preferred restoration projects centers not on restoring natural resources such as sturgeon, a species important to the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, but on restoring the unique culture of the Mohawks, which is tied closely to the natural world.

A tribal apprenticeship program will work to restore traditional Mohawk cultural practices, including basketmaking. (Akwesasne Museum and Cultural Center)

A tribal apprenticeship program will work to restore traditional Mohawk cultural practices, including basketmaking. (Akwesasne Museum and Cultural Center)

Grassy meadows on both sides of the Lower Grasse River were set aside for the Mohawks of Akewsasne by the Seven Nations of Canada Treaty of 1796. The name Akwesasne means “the land where the partridge drums,” a reference to the sound created by the rapids of the St. Lawrence River prior to the construction of dams.

The people of Akwesasne were directly impacted by the contamination from the Alcoa, Reynolds, and GM factories. An innovative tribal apprenticeship program will seek to restore traditional Mohawk cultural practices that have been lost or impaired since contamination limited use of the uplands, the rivers, and their natural resources. The tribe, as a trustee, has targeted four traditional areas for apprentices to receive hands-on training from experienced masters:

  • Water, fishing, and use of the river.
  • Horticulture and basketmaking.
  • Medicinal plants and healing.
  • Hunting and trapping.

The apprenticeship program will provide experience in directly harvesting, preparing, preserving, and producing traditional Mohawk cultural products while promoting Mohawk language in each aspect of the training.

Restoration funding also will support existing institutions and programs focused on recovering cultural practices and language injured by contaminants from these manufacturing sites.

For more information and instructions on how to comment on the preferred restoration projects and the settlement, visit the NOAA Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program website.


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NOAA, Dow Chemical Collaborate on Update to Federal Chemical Safety Software Tool

A train derailment in Paulsboro, N.J. in November 2012 released 23,000 gallons of toxic vinyl chloride gas. (NOAA)

A train derailment in Paulsboro, N.J. in November 2012 released 23,000 gallons of toxic vinyl chloride gas. (NOAA)

NOAA has partnered with chemical industry experts from the Dow Chemical Company to release a significant update to a free software program used to prevent dangerous chemical incidents and help protect emergency workers responding to hazardous chemical spills.

The software, known as the Chemical Reactivity Worksheet, predicts potential hazards from mixing chemicals. This newest version of the program is the result of a two-year-long collaboration between NOAA chemical response specialists, technical experts at Dow, and partners at the Center for Chemical Process Safety.

“This is an innovative collaboration between industry and government scientists to produce a valuable tool that addresses reactive chemical hazards,” said Jim Farr, NOAA chemist and project coordinator. “We hope this effort paves the way for other projects that enhance our understanding of chemical hazards and leads to a safer work environment for those people in the chemical industry and those that respond to chemical incidents.”

“We’ve greatly appreciated the opportunity to partner with NOAA on this and see this as a win-win for everyone,” said Dave Gorman, Dow chemist and project leader. “This collaboration has allowed us to merge a number of best practices and tools used within Dow with the very powerful Chemical Reactivity Worksheet tool. The result is a much more powerful and versatile tool that we hope will become the gold standard within industry for determining chemical compatibility.”

The Chemical Reactivity Worksheet provides information about 5,200 chemicals, each assigned to one or more “reactive groups” of chemicals which may react in a characteristic and potentially hazardous way if they come in contact with certain substances. The user creates a virtual mixture of chemicals—which could include the chemicals involved in a hazardous incident or stored in a laboratory, warehouse, or transport vehicle. Then the program predicts the possible hazards, including fire or explosion, from mixing all possible pairs of those chemicals.

Screen shot from Chemical Reactivity Worksheet showing the color-coded reactivity predictions and hazard statements for the predicted reactions.

The Chemical Reactivity Worksheet shows the predicted hazards of mixing the chemicals in a mixture in an easy-to-use graphical interface. In this view, the reactivity predictions are color coded, and the cells on the chart can be clicked to find more information about specific predicted reactions. General hazard statements, predicted gas products, and literature documentation for the selected pair of chemicals are shown at the bottom of the chart.

This latest release of the software increases the number of reactive groups, allowing for more refined predictions of potential chemical reactions, and expands the description of reactive chemicals. The program now includes an alert for possible gases released from a chemical mixture, as well as information on the compatibility of common absorbents used in response to spills of hazardous chemicals.

In addition, managers of chemical facilities and university chemistry departments now can add chemicals unique to their facilities, enabling them to further customize their evaluations of potential hazards. Other improvements include enhanced ease of use and functionality for the user, refined reactivity predictions, and updated chemical data.

The Chemical Reactivity Worksheet is available for download online at http://response.restoration.noaa.gov/reactivityworksheet.

The work was done as part of NOAA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s joint development of the CAMEO software suite, which provides valuable emergency response and planning tools for releases of hazardous materials. The Center for Chemical Process Safety also contributed to the project.  The team’s work was reviewed by other chemists in industry and at Argonne National Laboratory.


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From Rubber Ducks to Dog Food, Spilling Everything But Oil

Rubber ducks floating.

Sometimes when responders can’t spill oil, they spill rubber ducks. (Credit: Jason Ahrns. Used under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.)

What do rubber duckies, dog food, oranges, wood chips, green dye, hula hoops, peat moss, popcorn, and rice hulls have in common?  All have been used to mimic the behavior of spilled oil.  These materials are used because in the U.S. dumping oil in the ocean is prohibited, even if it is done intentionally for training, experimental, or testing purposes.

Tank testing has been an alternative, and we use real oil in test tanks such as the one at Ohmsett (an oil spill response and research testing facility in New Jersey), but there are questions about how well these tanks simulate real world conditions, including rough seas, currents, and waves.

That means there is a real need for materials that both realistically mimic oil behavior and are safe for use in the environment. They allow us to test computer models, such as NOAA’s GNOME oil forecasting model, and to improve how containment booms and other response tactics work.

During the "Safe Seas 2006" emergency response drill off San Francisco, Calif., on Aug. 9, 2006, Oil Spill Response Corporation's Pacific Responder could be seen deploying nontoxic green dye to simulate an oil spill. The NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program's Research Vessel Shearwater (foreground) also participated in the drill. (NOAA)

During the “Safe Seas 2006” emergency response drill off San Francisco, Calif., responders deployed nontoxic green dye to simulate an oil spill. (NOAA)

On March 21, 2013, experts from around the country gathered at NOAA offices in Seattle, Wash., to discuss the need and best options for oil spill simulants. What alternatives are best? What are the environmental effects of those simulants? What permits are needed? And most importantly, how similar is the behavior compared with real oil?

One of the preliminary conclusions from this meeting is that oil behavior is difficult to emulate, and all of the existing simulants have drawbacks.

We’ll post a future story about progress in this area, and in the meantime, if you notice a bunch of oranges (or grapefruits or lemons) floating in the water, you may be seeing a test of oil spill preparedness like this one in Florida:

Coast Guard, partnering agencies conduct Tidal Inlet Protection Strategy exercise.

In August of 2012, the U.S. Coast Guard and partnering agencies conducted an exercise aimed at testing the ability to protect Biscayne Bay (Florida) from offshore oil and involved deploying approximately 7,500 feet of boom and 240 pieces of surrogate oil or fruit, including grapefruits, oranges, and lemons across the channel. (U.S. Coast Guard)

In August of 2012, the U.S. Coast Guard and partnering agencies conducted an exercise aimed at testing the ability to protect Biscayne Bay (Florida) from offshore oil and involved deploying approximately 7,500 feet of boom and 240 pieces of surrogate oil or fruit, including grapefruits, oranges, and lemons across the channel. (U.S. Coast Guard)


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For Submerged Oil Pollution in Western Gulf of Mexico, Restoration Is Coming After 2005 DBL 152 Oil Spill

By Sandra Arismendez, Regional Resource Coordinator for the Office of Response and Restoration’s Assessment and Restoration Division.

Imagine trying to describe the state of 45,000 acres of habitat on the ocean bottom—an area the size of over 34,000 football fields. And you have to do it without four of your five senses. You can’t touch it. You can’t taste it. You can’t smell it. You can’t hear it. Sometimes you can barely see a few inches in front of your scuba mask as you swim 60 feet below the surface in the murky waters of the Gulf of Mexico. But that was the task NOAA scientists faced seven years ago in the wake of a large offshore oil spill in the western Gulf of Mexico.

The DBL 152, shown here on November 13, 2005 shortly before capsizing, ended up discharging nearly 2 million gallons of a thick slurry oil, which sank to the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. (ENTRIX)

The DBL 152, shown here on November 13, 2005 shortly before capsizing, ended up discharging nearly 2 million gallons of a thick slurry oil, which sank to the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. (ENTRIX)

An Oily-Fated Journey

The oil was released from tank barge (T/B) DBL 152 as it was traveling from Houston, Texas, to Tampa, Fla., in November 2005.  While in transit, the barge struck the submerged remains of a pipeline service platform that collapsed a few months earlier during Hurricane Rita. The double-hulled barge was carrying approximately 5 million gallons of slurry oil, a type of oil denser than seawater, which meant as the thick oil poured out of the barge, it sank to the seafloor.

Heavy chains dragged absorbent material along the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico in order to detect submerged oil. (ENTRIX, 11/19/2005)

Heavy chains dragged absorbent material along the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico in order to detect submerged oil. (ENTRIX, 11/19/2005)

Eventually, the barge’s tug was able to tow it toward shore, hoping to ground and stabilize it in shallower waters. However, the barge grounded unexpectedly 30 miles from shore, releasing more oil and eventually capsizing. Approximately 1.9 million gallons of oil drained into the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico. To find, track, and clean up the oil in these cloudy waters, oil spill responders used information from divers, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), and oil trajectory models. Executing this process over such a large area of the seafloor took more than a year. While divers were able to recover an estimated 98,910 gallons of oil, some 1.8 million gallons more remained unrecovered.

NOAA’s Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program (DARRP) provides the unique scientific and technical expertise to assess and restore natural resources injured by oil spills like the DBL 152 incident as well as releases of hazardous substances and vessel groundings.  For more than 20 years, DARRP has worked cooperatively with other federal, tribal, and state co-trustees and responsible parties to assess the injuries and reverse the effects of contamination to our marine resources, including fish, marine mammals, wetlands, reefs, and other ocean and coastal habitats.

Oil Spill Sentinels in the Open Sea

So what happened to the other 1.8 million gallons of oil which were not feasible to clean up? Initially, the oil sank to the ocean bottom, creating a “footprint” of the impacted area.

Crab pot sentinels used to detect submerged oil on the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico. (ENTRIX, Dec. 3, 2005)

Crab pot sentinels used to detect submerged oil on the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico. (ENTRIX, Dec. 3, 2005)

Immediately following the spill, NOAA, the U.S. Coast Guard, Texas state trustees, and the responsible party worked together to assess impacts to natural resources and habitats affected by the spill. Scientists collected and analyzed oil samples, bottom-dwelling animals living in the sediments, and samples of sediments and water taken in the oiled areas. In particular, creatures on the seafloor were at risk of being smothered or contaminated by the dense oil as it sank to the bottom.

As you might expect, assessing injuries to an area of the open ocean covering 34,000 football fields is no easy task, especially considering how difficult it is to detect the oily culprit itself. Because we couldn’t always see the submerged oil over such a large area, oil-absorbing pads were dragged systematically across miles of ocean to locate patches of oil. Underwater sorbent “sentinels,” oil-absorbing tools used to detect oil, also were placed and monitored strategically in the predicted path of the spilled oil to tell us if the footprint of the remaining oil at the ocean bottom was relatively stationary, and if not, in what general direction it was moving. Monitoring revealed the oiled area was moving and dissipating over time as it weathered due to exposure to physical forces such as currents.

The environmental assessment showed that fish and organisms living on or near the ocean floor (such as worms, clams, and crabs) were injured by the oil that sank to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. That submerged oil impacted approximately 45,000 acres of ocean floor. However, much of this area recovered over time as the oil naturally dissipated and weathering broke it up.

A Path Forward

Submerged oil from Tank Barge DBL 152 on the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico. (EXTRIX, December 2005)

Submerged oil from Tank Barge DBL 152 on the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico. (EXTRIX, December 2005)

In March 2013, NOAA released the Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan [PDF] for the DBL 152 incident, which demonstrates that restoration is possible for this oil spill. The plan outlines injuries to natural resources and proposes a restoration project to implement estuarine shoreline protection and salt marsh creation at the Texas Chenier Plain National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Galveston Bay, Texas. The preferred shoreline protection and marsh restoration project proposed in the draft plan is designed to replenish the natural resources lost due to the oiling during the period both when they were injured and while they recovered.

Public comments can be submitted through April 15, 2013 by mailing written comments to: 

NOAA, Office of General Counsel, Natural Resources Section
Attn: Chris Plaisted
501 W. Ocean Blvd., Suite 4470
Long Beach, CA 90802

Or submitting comments electronically at www.regulations.gov (Docket I.D.:  NOAA-NMFS-2013-0034).

Following the close of the public comment period, NOAA will consider any comments and release a Final Restoration Plan. This comment period is the last step before restoration projects are selected and funding is sought from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for implementation.

Since the party responsible for the oil spill reached its legal limit of liability and is not obligated to pay further liabilities by law, NOAA will submit a claim to the National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC), administered by the U.S. Coast Guard, to cover the cost of enacting the needed environmental restoration. The Pollution Funds Center serves as a safety net to help cover the costs of reclaiming our nation’s invaluable natural resources following these types of events.

Sandra Arismendez

Sandra Arismendez

Sandra Arismendez is a coastal ecologist and Regional Resource Coordinator for the Gulf of Mexico in the Assessment and Restoration Division of NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration.


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No Oil Spilled, Though Fire Continues after Tug and Barge Hit Gas Pipeline near Louisiana’s Bayou Perot

A pipeline burns after an collision with tug boat Shanon E. Setton, near Bayou Perot 30 miles south of New Orleans, March 13, 2013. The Coast Guard is working with federal, state and local agencies in response to this incident to ensure the safety of responders and contain and clean up any oil may leak. (U.S. Coast Guard)

A pipeline burns after it was hit by the tug boat Shanon E. Setton, near Bayou Perot 30 miles south of New Orleans, March 13, 2013. The Coast Guard is working with federal, state and local agencies in response to this incident to ensure the safety of responders and contain and clean up any oil that may leak. (U.S. Coast Guard)

NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration is assisting the U.S. Coast Guard after a tug and barge hit a liquefied petroleum gas pipeline the evening of March 12, 2013, resulting in a fire near Bayou Perot, 30 miles south of New Orleans, La.

While the fire was initially reported to be 100 feet tall, it appears to have reduced in size by approximately 30%. The tug, UTV Shanon E. Settoon, carrying 1,000 gallons (24 barrels) of diesel fuel, has grounded, with the fire continuing to burn next to it. The barge it was pushing, Oil Barge SMI 572, appears to remain intact, along with the approximately 93,000 gallons (2,215 barrels) of crude oil it is carrying.

NOAA oceanographers have used the GNOME oil spill forecasting software program to model the projected path of potentially spilled oil and will continue to do so on a daily basis. According to the Coast Guard, “Visual imagery initially indicated potential pockets of crude oil; however, those areas have been determined to be particulate ash from the liquefied natural gas burn off.”

The NOAA Scientific Support Coordinator in Louisiana has been helping aerial observers map their findings and advising the Coast Guard on various natural resource and pollution response issues. While on an aerial overflight of the area Wednesday afternoon, neither he nor the other observers noted any oil or sheen on the water, and observations of the nearby shoreline have also been free of oil.

Before beginning a pollution investigation and salvage operations, the Coast Guard has been allowing the vessel and residual gas to burn off. The response has sent out containment boom to surround the vessels and skimmers have been deployed for cleanup. The damaged Chevron pipeline, carrying liquefied petroleum gas, has been shut down.

Although there were injuries, all four crew members were able to escape from the tug.

Watch a U.S. Coast Guard video of an aerial view of the pipeline burning, the damaged vessels, and the response efforts.

Find the latest updates at the Coast Guard Newsroom.