Bird’s Eye View: Oil Leaking From Waste Pits, Photos

Yesterday, I took another Mississippi River Flood flyover. With me on board were Anna Hrybyk, Program Manager for the Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB) and Robin Walker, a local photographer. Two cameras are always better than one! We embarked from Southern Seaplanes at about 8:30 AM and flew for about two and a half hours. You can see our flightpath here.You may recall from a previous blog that LABB posted a map showing sensitive oil and gas infrastructure in the path of the flood. You also may have seen a recent article in the Times Picayune that discusses some of the environmental problems that have surfaced (pun intended) since the flooding began. Well, we flew over some of those sites to see if we could connect the dots and, not surprisingly, some of what we saw showed poorly stored waste that has become displaced thanks to the flood waters and poor containment efforts by irresponsible businesses. Oil sheen and other contaminants such as diesel fuel are visible emanating from subsurface structures and flooded well-heads, as well as from businesses on the river side of the flood wall in Morgan City. Check out these photos to see for yourself:Runoff from the waste pits, which on average are about the size of a large swimming pool can contain oil, diesel, drilling mud and other chemicals. Government data compiled by LABB estimates that the flood waters in Louisiana threaten 13,000 oil and gas wells; 3,600 petroleum extraction operations; 4,000 oil waste pits; four oil storage terminals; and the Alon Refinery in Krotz Springs, La. Furthermore, in 1997, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) estimated that 2 million migratory birds were lost each year to oil pits throughout the United States. According to FWS, currently nearly 1 million birds are lost annually in oil field production skim pits and centralized oilfield wastewater disposal facilities. Sounds to me like these pits are not for the birds, again pun intended.Finally, authorities in North Dakota say some oil companies may have ignored their warnings to protect oil waste pits from recent flooding and failed to take action that could have prevented spills. At least 19 companies in ND have been fined several million dollars. It will be interesting to see what LDEQ does to punish violators in Louisiana, if anything.Jonathan Henderson is the Coastal Resiliency Organizer for GRNThank you to Josephine Billups of the band Sassafrass for making this flight possible.

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