A grotesque collision of fossil-fuel-laden vessels happened in a bayou south of New Orleans on Tuesday evening, where tug-boat operators crashed a barge carrying crude oil into a submerged natural-gas pipeline.
The result was predictable: A spectacular conflagration erupted that injured two of the four members of the tug-boat crew, including the captain, who reportedly suffered burns covering more than three quarters of his body. Emergency crews on Wednesday were scrambling to contain spilled oil spreading south of the accident.
The crash occurred at about 6 p.m. local time 30 miles south of New Orleans on Bayou Perot, according to the Coast Guard.
Pipeline owner Chevron isolated the severed section of line by shutting off some of its valves, and emergency crews allowed the gas left inside it to burn off, The Washington Post reports. Various outlets reported that the barge was carrying more than 2,000 barrels of oil and that the tug boat was fueled with diesel.
The fire burned through the night and past dawn.
The oil spill may be substantial. In a telephone interview on WGNO this morning, while the tug and pipeline still burned, a Coast Guard spokesman said a 30-foot-wide ribbon of “what looks like combusted oil” was heading south from the accident site.
The fishing area and oil and gas field is no stranger to fossil-fuel accidents. Shorelines in the area were heavily polluted following BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the spring and summer of 2010. And in late 2010, three welders were injured when the rig they had been working aboard in the shallow waterway exploded.