Oil Companies Try to Clean Up Spills in the Wake of Ivan, but Rough Weather Interferes
NEW ORLEANS Rough seas forced pipeline and oil rig repair crews out of the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, delaying efforts to get the nation's oil and natural gas infrastructure on track after Hurricane Ivan.
Ivan's damage and the rise in oil prices to more than $52 a barrel highlighted the nation's dependency on oil and gas activities in the Gulf.
The storm ripped rigs off their bases and cracked sections in the extensive pipeline system that feeds the country much of its fuel. Broken pipelines caused at least four oil spills off the Louisiana coast and others farther out in the Gulf.
"The weather in the next couple of days will have an impact on the repair work," said Fred Palmer, a Shell Oil Co. spokesman.
As of Wednesday, nearly three weeks after Ivan hit the Gulf Coast, the federal Minerals Management Service and the U.S. Coast Guard were still unsure how many oil spills were caused by cracked pipelines. Most of the pipelines in the hurricane's path were shut in and being inspected.
At a Shell pipeline about 30 miles east of Venice, Louisiana, near the mouth of the Mississippi River, crews had gathered about 101,000 gallons of water polluted with oil. On Thursday, the Coast Guard said there were no sightings of oil in the water.
"There seems to be no visible oil. So therefore, cleanup operations have been completed," said Kyle Niemi, a Coast Guard spokesman said.
In the wake of the hurricane, oil production in the Gulf is more than 3 million barrels per week below average, putting U.S. crude inventories at historically tight levels and contributing to the record price of oil.
"We all know there was certainly a lot of damage caused by Ivan to the pipeline system," said Caryl Fagot, a spokeswoman for the Minerals Management Service. "I do not have a good count as to how many leaks there have been."
She added there were no reports of major pollution in federal waters, which extend 200 miles out from the mainland.
The extent of what happened during Ivan may never be known, Fagot said. Although many pipelines were closed and emptied, companies have much leeway in what they do with their pipelines, she said.
"If there were oil spills during the storm, and they were dissipated, we will never know," she said.
Roland Guidry, the oil spill coordinator for Louisiana, said companies sometimes take a chance and leave oil and gas in their pipelines when a storm approaches.
Ivan also damaged and knocked over several oil rigs which dot parts of the Gulf south of Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana but there were no reports of oil leaks from them. When a hurricane comes, oil wells are secured.
Environmentalists said Ivan and the threat of busier hurricane seasons to become more common demonstrated that oil and gas exploration in the Gulf is dirty and dangerous to the marine ecosystem.
"If this becomes the norm, more and more hurricanes, are they prepared? Have these rigs been hardened? Was it designed with a different reality in mind?" said Kert Davies, research director at Greenpeace USA.
The Minerals Management Service has asked companies to inspect oil rigs and pipelines in the path of Ivan for damage. That work, much of it done underwater, may take months to finish.
No public announcement was made about the oil spill near Venice. Officials said there is no requirement to notify the public about an oil spill.
In waters near Louisiana's coast, all near Venice, four oil spills were being worked, Guidry said. He said there was no estimate how much oil leaked out.
"That oil is floating around all over there, and everyone is picking it up," he said.
He called the leak at the Shell pipeline a medium spill. He said it was broken in two by wave action that made the pipeline look "like skip rope."
He said there were reports of "some oiled pelicans." He added, "But they're not that heavily oiled."
Source: Associated Press