The following is the text of a press release issued by the National Oceanic and Atmopheric Administration:
(NEW ORLEANS) — NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration and the NOAA National Weather Service are on scene in New Orleans aiding in the response to the estimated 419,000 gallons of #6 fuel oil spilled early on the morning of July 23 when a 600-foot chemical tanker and 200-foot fuel barge collided on the Mississippi River just north of the Crescent City Connector Bridge in New Orleans, La. The spill is approximately eight times larger than the 53,000 gallons of fuel oil spilled in November, 2007 from the Cosco Busan in San Francisco Bay.
While the incident occurred north of the Crescent City Bridge, the spill is now showing impact signs more than 80 miles south of New Orleans and the slick will reach the Gulf of Mexico as it moves south with the river’s current.
NOAA is providing trajectory predictions to the Unified Command, which is led by the U.S. Coast Guard and also includes the state, and the shipping company. NOAA, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Louisiana State Department of Environmental Quality are also supporting the response as co-trustees for marine and coastal waters.
NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration provided its first spill trajectory predictions to the Unified Command within two and a half hours of the spill and continues to provide overall scientific on-scene support. The NOAA Scientific Support Coordinator for the Gulf of Mexico region is on scene to support the response from the Incident Command Center and is being assisted by five members of the NOAA Scientific Support Team. Additional staff are en-route.
NOAA’s National Weather Service Incident Meteorologists are providing on-site weather support including wind forecasts which are being used in the spill trajectory models. Weather information will be updated continuously throughout the coming days and integrated into both trajectory predictions and planning of response operations.
Preliminary chemical analysis of the oil shows it to be near the density of fresh water, but light enough to float initially on the surface. As the oil picks up river sediment it may become heavy enough to be drawn into drinking water intake pipes in New Orleans and downriver communities.
More than 85 miles of the lower Mississippi River remains closed to marine traffic and will be closed for at least several days. Over 70 ships and barge tows are waiting to transit the closed area and that number is likely to grow.
Heavy shoreline impacts are reported by NOAA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff despite the deployment of more than 11,000 feet of oil booms to contain the original spill. River levels are continuing to slowly drop from earlier flood water highs, increasing the potential for stranding oil.
NOAA personnel are helping to organize preliminary shoreline assessment activities in anticipation that over 100 miles of river shoreline may need to be surveyed and prioritized for clean-up. This information will also be useful for Natural Resource Damage Assessment- the process by which the federal and state resource agencies will identify, document and quantify injuries to natural resources and services. From that they will determine appropriate restoration activities to compensate the public for any loss of natural resources resulting from the spill.
Other NOAA assets that may be called on in response to the spill include NOAA Fisheries Protected Resources Division, which is responsible for conservation and management of native and migratory marine mammals and endangered species, and the NOAA Marine Debris Program, which seeks to mitigate marine pollution impacts.
NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration protects the public’s natural resources, responds to hazardous material releases, and restores injured and contaminated marine and coastal environments. The NOAA Emergency Response Division consists of an interdisciplinary scientific team that responds to oil and chemical spills in U.S. waters and helps the On-Scene Coordinator make timely operational decisions. NOAA’s Scientific Support Coordinators, located around the country, lead the team at spills, drawing on the team’s spill trajectory estimates, chemical hazards analyses, and assessments of the sensitivity of biological and human-use resources.
NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.