LA Pipeline Corrosion Causes Oil Spill


A pipeline near New Orleans ruptured and spilled more than 300,000 gallons of diesel fuel last month after repairs needed to fix corrosion damage were delayed. The Meraux Pipeline was inspected in October 2020, revealing external corrosion along a 22-foot section of pipe, but was not immediately repaired.

The Associated Press reports that on Dec. 27, the spill was discovered near a levee in St. Bernard Parish, according to documents from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The 16-inch-diameter, 125-mile-long pipeline is operated by Collins Pipeline Co. in Mississippi, a subsidiary of PBF Energy Inc.

Previous Inspections

Where corrosion was the worst, according to federal records, the pipe had lost 75% of metal, but the line continued operating after a second inspection reportedly concluded that it was not bad enough to require immediate repair under federal rules.

“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. 

Pressure was reduced inside the pipeline in November 2020 after the initial inspection found corrosion. Then, it was decreased again in November last year, when officials reported that the line had not been repaired within a time frame required under federal regulations.

A PBF Energy representative said in an October 2021 email to federal pipeline regulators that the company had completed repairs on another flawed section of the line, but was still awaiting approval to address the corrosion found in the vicinity of the rupture site, 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.

These records also show that federal regulators have initiated six enforcement cases against Collins Pipeline since 2007, including a warning letter in 2021 alleging management problems at the company’s control room and a 2011 warning for not conducting external corrosion tests frequently enough.

What’s Next

According to officials, following the discovery, the fuel was drained into two artificial ponds, or “borrow pits.” 31,5000 gallons of fuel with some water has been skimmed and recovered from waterbodies including ponds, said the pipeline’s owner.

Soil in the area was also contaminated by the spill, impacting an environmentally sensitive area near the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet. Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Gregory Langley said that a small amount of diesel remains in the two borrow pits, and cleanup work is ongoing.

According to statistics provided by Robert “Trey” Iles, a spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the diesel spill killed 2,300 fish and more than 100 other animals, including 39 snakes, 32 birds, a few eels and a blue crab. Nearly 130 animals—72 alligators, 23 birds, 20 snakes and 12 turtles—were also captured for rehabilitation and taken to recieve care by a nearby cleanup company.

An order to PBF Chairman Thomas Nimbley describing the steps the company had to take prior to restarting the line identified the probable cause of the spill as “localized corrosion and metal loss” based on preliminary reports by the associate administrator of the federal pipeline safety agency, Alan Mayberry.

The company repaired the line at a cost of $500,000 and resumed operations on Jan. 8, PBF Vice President Michael Karlovich told AP in an email, with an environmental damage assessment pending.

“Although we continue to remediate and monitor the area, on-water recovery operations have been completed,” Karlovich said. He also noted that the site is about 4.5 miles from the Mississippi River, not just a few hundred feet away as federal officials said.

According to the records, currently no fines or penalties have been issued against the company.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Cleanup; Corrosion; Environmental Protection; Health and safety; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Oil and Gas; Pipeline; Pipelines; Pipes; Program/Project Management; Safety

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