Dredge barge damages abandoned wellhead, triggering five-day gusher

Oil and natural gas spewed into the sky for five days after a dredge barge struck a submerged wellhead in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay.

The towing vessel Pere Ana C was pushing the dredge barge Captain Buford Berry when the barge hit the wellhead just outside the channel, the U.S. Coast Guard said. The tug and barge were en route to Berwick Bay when the incident occurred at approximately 0100 on July 27.

Coast Guard officials in New Orleans declined to comment on the cause of the accident. The abandoned wellhead is located outside Barataria channel in approximately six feet

of water. The Coast Guard would not say whether or not the abandoned wellhead was marked with a light or buoy. The position of the wellhead is clearly marked on the NOAA chart. The Coast Guard would not verify the accuracy of the wellhead’s position on the chart.

The tug and 150-foot barge are owned by Cvitanovic Boat Services of Belle Chasse, La. The company didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.

According to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, the last known owner record of the abandoned well was Cedyco Corp. of Houston. Capt. John Arenstam, the Coast Guard’s federal on-scene coordinator, said that under authority provided by the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, an administrative order to Cedyco directed the company to stop the well from discharging oil and gas.

Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans deployed an MH-65C helicopter with a marine pollution investigator on board to access the scene and determine the impact, said Elizabeth Bordelon, a spokeswoman with the Coast Guard’s Eighth District. A Notice to Mariners was broadcast and a safety zone was established two miles around the incident to protect vessels and mariners from the hazards associated with the release of natural gas and oil.

Bordelon said that the Coast Guard established a Unified Command Post, which included state and federal agencies. The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund provided monetary support for cleanup operations which included 60,200 feet of containment boom and 14,080 feet of absorbent boom to minimize the environmental impact of the spill. More than 213 response personnel and 47 skimmer boats were involved.

The Unified Command Post reported that the wellhead was finally secured at 1805 on Aug. 1 and was no longer emitting oil or gas into Barataria Bay. Approximately 35 barrels of an oil/water mixture were recovered by responders. There is no accurate estimate of the total number of barrels spilled into Barataria Bay.

John Snyder

By Professional Mariner Staff