The incident was first reported to the Coast Guard early Tuesday morning. At that time, Berry Brothers General Contractors were conducting dredging operations for ExxonMobil in the area of the spill. They notified the Coast Guard that oil was spilling into a canal located 10 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana.
An area of about 160 square miles has been affected by the spill - 16 square miles of wetlands in the 76 square-mile Delta National Wildlife Refuge and 120 square miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.
Cypress Pipe Line Company of Opelousas, Louisiana, which operates the pipeline, reports that approximately 18,000 gallons of crude oil has been released.
Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class James Peterson takes a sample from an oil spill in the Delta National Wildlife Refuge. April 6, 2010. (Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jesse Kavanaugh courtesy USCG)
Upon receiving the initial report of the spill, Cypress personnel closed off the affected section of the pipeline and began emergency response procedures to minimize the environmental impact of the oil.
CPL, a joint venture between British Petroleum and Chevron Pipe Line Company, is working with Coast Guard Sector New Orleans, the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator's Office - Department of Public Safety and Corrections, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service to assess and respond to the situation. The Coast Guard is investigating the cause of the spill.
More than 50 people and 16 vessels now are at the scene conducting and managing cleanup operations and environmental protection efforts, which include recovery of the oil and attempting to keep wildlife out of the impacted area.
As of this morning, 5,000 feet of containment boom were deployed to enclose the oil. Workers planned to deploy an additional 2,000 feet of boom today around the environmentally sensitive area near Breton Island.
So far, there are no reports of any birds or animals impacted in the incident.
Located at the mouth of the Mississippi River and formed by the deposition of sediment carried for hundreds of miles down the river, the Delta National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1935.
The refuge is the wintering ground for hundreds of thousands of snow geese, coots and ducks. Endangered and threatened species on the refuge include the American alligator, the brown pelican, the Arctic peregrine falcon and the piping plover.
Environmentalists warn that the incident casts doubt on more offshore drilling. "This is just more evidence that the oil and gas industry don't have the proper safety standards in place," said Casey DeMoss Roberts of the New Orleans group of the Sierra Club. "The President claims drilling is safer than ever but our state is the cautionary tale."
"Accidents are a frighteningly common occurrence in the petroleum industry in Louisiana," said Roberts who pointed to reports submitted to the Department of Environmental Quality by Louisiana refineries showing that 10 of the largest refineries in the state averaged 10 accidents a week from 2005-2008.
"Louisiana has been devastated by the oil industry," said Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental health and justice organization. "Our health and our environment have been ravaged by accidents and carelessness. Instead of raking in the profits it is time to start honestly reckoning with the problems."
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