Gulf of Mexico
Oil floats on the surface of flooded Phillips 66 oil refinery at Alliance on Sept. 9, 2021. STAFF PHOTO BY SOPHIA GERMER

GOM - Hurricane Ida oil spills 'mind-boggling,' but likely not as bad as Katrina, Rita

Some call for infrastructure review every five years, fines for violators

The seaplane barely lifted off the water before Naomi Yoder spotted the first oil spill. Just south of Belle Chasse, Yoder, a scientist with environmental group Healthy Gulf, pointed to the rainbow sheen covering the floodwaters that Hurricane Ida threw across the 2,400-acre Phillips 66 Alliance Refinery complex.

Farther south near the mouth of the Mississippi River, Yoder found shrimp boats chugging past a sheen more than nine miles long. South of Port Fourchon, where Ida made landfall on Aug. 29, was a cluster of rusted and storm-ravaged platforms oozing long, thin trails of oil. On the return trip, the plane flew over at least four patches of oil in the fragile marshes rimming Barataria Bay.  

“It’s mind-boggling,” Yoder said Friday after Healthy Gulf’s fourth flight to monitor the spills left in Ida’s wake. “It’s definitely a surprise to see what’s out there. It’s always more than you expect to find.”

More than expected, but how much? Two weeks after the Category 4 hurricane struck the Louisiana coast, it remains a daunting task to determine the number of spills and the volume of oil and other chemicals that ended up in the water. More than 2,300 spills have been reported to the Coast Guard, and about 900 have yet to be investigated. The spills that have been checked range from small fuel leaks off boats to the miles-long sheens from oil platforms.

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