The AP has reported that ships have been stranded, seafood sources threatened and the nation's oil reserve tapped as the result of 47,000 gallons of oil spilling into a southwestern Louisiana shipping channel, forcing its closure.
The June 19 spill at a Citgo Petroleum Corp. refinery in Lake Charles forced the closure of the Calcasieu Ship Channel, a key lane for transporting petroleum in and out of the region's four refineries. About 11 miles of the channel remained closed Thursday. The entire 40 miles to the Gulf of Mexico had been closed.
About 31,000 barrels had been cleaned up by Thursday, the Coast Guard said. A Citgo spokesman said the clean up was going well partly because a lack a wind kept oil patches in place and the dry, sunny weather was evaporating much of the oil.
Authorities describe the product as "waste oil" left over after the refining process. It came from two holding tanks at the Citgo refinery at the north end of the channel.
Citgo said the spill occurred because oil flowed over the tops of the tanks when torrential rainstorms overwhelmed the tanks' pumps. An earthen berm surrounding those tanks failed to contain 47,400 gallons of waste oil that eventually flowed into the ship channel, McCollum said.
The Coast Guard is investigating the cause of the berm's failure.
State environmental officials were investigating as well. Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Rodney Mallett said several miles of wetlands and shoreline were covered in oil.
Mallett said rain may have played a part in the spill but "there is no guarantee" that it was the cause.
The blocked ship channel runs
from the inland refineries in the Lake Charles and Westlake areas of Calcasieu Parish south about 40 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. The channel has outlets into area lakes along the way, including Calcasieu Lake, a major recreational and fishing area, which had been cleared for boating as of Thursday.
Closure of the channel has been blamed in part for recent oil price increases
, and led Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman on Wednesday to authorize a loan to two refineries of a total of 750,000 barrels of crude oil from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
The Citgo refinery was lent 250,000 barrels of the SPR oil; the ConnocoPhillips refinery, 500,000 barrels. Spokesmen for the two plants said neither was idled by the blocking of the channel, but both operated at reduced capacity.
Cleanup had progressed to the point where parts of the channel were being reopened, but it was unclear when unfettered traffic would resume.