A massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that has escaped widespread notice provides graphic evidence that damage done by last year's hurricanes poses an ongoing problem for the Gulf's oil industry and coastal environment.
A double-hulled tanker barge now drained and floating upside down at a dock off Mobile Bay was responsible for what appears to be one of the Gulf of Mexico's largest oil spills, which received scant attention when it occurred after midnight Nov. 11. A gash in the hull 35 feet long and 6 feet wide released up to 3 million gallons of oil off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas.
Federal officials said the 442-foot ship's hull ruptured and spilled the oil after it collided with a submerged oil platform wrecked by Hurricane Rita in September. Federal records show at least 167 Gulf platforms were damaged or destroyed during the active 2005 hurricane season. Many of these are submerged or so damaged that the warning beacons on them no longer function, and federal officials acknowledge they have no idea how many have working marker lights.
At least two more vessels have collided with submerged platforms since the Nov. 11 incident, federal records show. As of Thursday, the Mobile Register was unable to obtain details of the other two incidents.
Coast Guard officials said the spill, and the $35 million cleanup associated with it, might have been avoided if the owners of the oil platform had marked the submerged wreck with a lighted buoy, as required under federal law. But the wreck was marked only with floating plastic balls described as "cherry fenders." Such buoys are not lighted and would be difficult to see at midnight, when the accident happened.
More troubling, officials with the U.S. Minerals Management Service, which regulates the offshore oil fields, told the Register that they don't know if lighted buoys have been placed at any of the 115 wrecked platforms that remain in the Gulf. Three weeks after the spill incident, the agency published a "Safety Alert" that lists the locations of damaged platforms and warns mariners the platforms "were destroyed and might be potential obstructions."
Annnnnd there's more, and it gets worse.
I wonder if Halliburton got a no-bid contract to clean it up...