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“These are enormous structures moving down the river. These pilots are highly skilled people who sometimes have to put a thread through the needle to maintain navigation of these large tows within the channels,” Mr. Lipinski says.
Last February, two barges spilled about 10,000 gallons of oil after a collision about 50 miles upriver from New Orleans. In 2008, about 300,000 gallons of oil escaped near New Orleans after a similar collision between a barge and a tanker.
Recovery operations are ongoing. Jonathan Lally, a spokesman for the US Coast Guard Eighth District based in New Orleans, could not confirm the rate at which the oil was spilling, but described the discharge as a “slow leak.” Mr. Lally says besides recovery operations, which include 2,800 feet of boom, the Coast Guard is working to transfer the oil from the vessel to another to salvage the damaged barge.
The damaged barge has been pushed to the banks of the river in downtown Vicksburg. A 16-mile stretch of the lower Mississippi remains closed, a situation that is forcing about 47 barges to idle until further notice.
Petroleum and agricultural commodities like grain or fertilizer make up about 90 percent of commodities that travel the Mississippi River.
The Louisiana Environmental Action Network, an advocacy group located in Baton Rouge, La., says that its investigators have determined that oil sheen from the spill has already contaminated the area of land located between the river’s edge and the bluff in Mississippi, and the earthen levee in Louisiana. “It’s contaminated that ecosystem and will have a long-term impact on the sediment,” says Wilma Subra, a chemist with the organization.