Barge Collision dumps 120,000 gallons of oil into Mississippi River
On September 4th, on the Mississippi River near Columbus Belmont State Park, two barges collided. One barge owned by Inland Marine Services was punctured. One storage compartment leaked over 120,000 gallons of slurry oil into the River. As bad as it was, when one considers the vessel is designed to transport one million gallons of oil, it could have been much worse. The barge design helped to limit the spillage to approximately half of the oil in one compartment.
The collision shut down river traffic for miles. At one time almost 40 vessels were lined up waiting their turn to go up or down the River. Fortunately, no injuries were reported.
The U. S. Coast Guard began cleaning up soon after the spill. Over ten days later, as of September 17, 2015, the clean up continues. According to a report on WKMS, cleaning up oil in a river is not as simple as in the ocean (which isn't simple either.) Rivers have vegetation, along the banks, varying depths and lack the room for other vessels to avoid the area. The oil sinks to the bottom and then collects in columns making removal difficult.
When we visited the site on Monday, there was little evidence there had ever been a spill. The oily sheen was gone. Clean up vessels were out of sight. Two workers, surrounded by coolers, sat under an awning set up on the river bank. Crews come in for meals, then go back to work.
The damage to the ecosystem around this stretch of the River hasn't been announced. There have been no reported fish kills. But one local said he wouldn't be fishing on this stretch of river or eating river cat for awhile. Columbus residents and the Ingram Barge repair facility get their potable water from a deep well.
Unlike the high profile oil spills in the Gulf, no oily residue or noxious smell can be detected.
Only time will tell whether Old Man River can safely absorb 120,000 gallons of slurry oil without suffering permanent damage.