Hurricane Katrina, Rita oil spills mostly minor, didn’t reach shore

Published 6:28 pm Friday, August 18, 2006

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused 124 spills of petroleum products into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, almost all of them minor and none resulting in pollution reaching shore, the government reports.

The Interior Department, it its revised assessment, said the 124 spills from drilling rigs and pipelines totaled 17,652 barrels, with six of the spills releasing between 1,000 and 2,000 barrels of product.

The releases included both oil and condensate, a liquefied form of natural gas. There are 42 gallons to a barrel.

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The report by Interior’s Minerals Management Service called the spills “minimal” and said that releases were kept in check because safety valves installed below the ocean floor shut down drilling wells before the storms hit.

“Oil losses were mostly limited to the oil stored on the damaged structures or contained in the individual damaged pipeline segments,” said the report.

“There was no account of spills … that reached the shoreline, oiled birds or mammals, or involved any discoveries of large volumes of oil to be collected or cleaned up,” the report said.

It said 89 percent of the spills were considered “minor” in size and none were ranked as “major,” which requires a release of 2,381 barrels or more. The six largest spills — more than 1,000 barrels each — accounted for 59 percent of the total estimated product released.

The government last May reported that 457 pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico were damaged and 113 drilling platforms were destroyed. Almost all of the destroyed rigs were of an older design built before tougher construction standards were required in 1998, officials have said.

Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, and Rita followed nearly a month later on Sept. 24.

The results of the report, posted on the Minerals Management Service Web site, were first reported Wednesday by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel.