WASHINGTON – Hurricane Ike’s winds and massive waves destroyed oil platforms, tossed storage tanks and punctured pipelines. The environmental damage only now is becoming apparent: At least a half- million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico and the marshes, bayous and bays of Louisiana and Texas, according to an analysis of federal data by The Associated Press.
In the days before and after the storm, companies and residents reported at least 448 releases of oil, gasoline and dozens of other substances into the air and water and onto the ground in Louisiana and Texas.
“We are dealing with a multitude of different types of pollution here . . . everything from diesel in the water to gasoline to things like household chemicals,” said Larry Chambers, a petty officer with the U.S. Coast Guard Command Center in Pasadena, Texas.
The Coast Guard, with the Environmental Protection Agency and state agencies, has responded to more than 3,000 pollution reports associated with the storm and its surge along the upper Texas coast.
No major oil spills or hazardous-materials releases have been identified, but nearly 1,500 sites still need to be cleaned up.
Power outages also caused sewage pipes to stop flowing. Elsewhere, the storm’s surge dredged up smelly and oxygen-deprived marsh mud, which killed fish and caused residents to complain of nausea and headaches.
The Minerals Management Service, which oversees oil production in federal waters offshore, said the storm destroyed at least 52 oil platforms of roughly 3,800 in the Gulf of Mexico. Thirty-two more were severely damaged. But there was only one confirmed report of an oil spill – a leak of 8,400 gallons that officials said left no trace because it dissipated with the winds and currents.
Hurricane Katrina ranked as among the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history, with about 9 million gallons of oil spilled when the storm hit the Gulf Coast in 2005.