NEW ORLEANS -- A severely corroded pipeline ruptured and spilled more than 300,000 gallons of diesel fuel just outside New Orleans after needed repairs on the line were delayed by its operator, according to federal records.
Most of the fuel drained into two artificial ponds called "borrow pits" and thousands of fish, birds and other animals were killed, state and local officials said. Most of the fuel was recovered, according to the pipeline owner.
The company has repaired the line since the spill and resumed operations, PBF Vice President Michael Karlovich told The Associated Press in an email Wednesday.
The spill from the 16-inch-diameter line operated by Collins Pipeline Co. was discovered Dec. 27 near a levee in St. Bernard Parish, just east of New Orleans, according to documents from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
An inspection of the 42-year-old Meraux Pipeline more than a year earlier, in October 2020, revealed external corrosion along a 22-foot section of pipe in the same area as the spill. But repairs were delayed and the line continued operating after a subsequent inspection indicated the corrosion was not bad enough to require work immediately under federal regulations, according to the pipeline agency.
The spilled fuel also contaminated soil in an environmentally sensitive area near the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a closed canal, according to state and federal officials.
Diesel is considered a highly toxic petroleum product that can kill fish and plants that come into direct contact with it, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Fuel from small spills can evaporate or disperse naturally in just a couple of days but larger spills can take months to degrade.
A pipeline safety advocate said it was "maddening" that the corrosion was known about for more than a year prior to the spill yet fuel kept flowing through the 125-mile-long (200-kilometer-long) line from Chalmette to a storage terminal in Collins, Mississippi.
Collins Pipeline is a subsidiary of Parsippany, N.J.-based PBF Energy Inc., which owns six petroleum refineries in the U.S. including the Chalmette Refinery in St. Bernard Parish.