Pipeline blaze could burn until today
BY KEVIN McGILL, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS -- A fire raging in a coastal Louisiana bayou where a tugboat struck a gas pipeline appeared to have diminished Wednesday night, but is far from extinguished, the Coast Guard said.
Smoke was still visible in New Orleans, 30 miles to the north, and officials say they don't expect the fire sparked by Tuesday night's crash to be out until today or later.
It started when a tug pushing an oil barge struck a liquefied natural gas pipeline in shallow Bayou Perot, where Lafourche and Jefferson parishes meet. Four people were injured, one critically.
No oil had spilled as of Wednesday evening and what appeared to be pockets of oil on the water turned out to be ash from the burned gas, the Coast Guard said.
At a news conference, Capt. Jonathan Burton stressed that the barge remained intact and none of the oil appeared to be leaking. However, as a precaution, protective boom was deployed in the area around the site and in nearby environmentally sensitive areas. Oil skimmers also were dispatched.
"We're not waiting for something to happen," Burton told reporters. Preparations included consulting with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on where currents might take the oil if it were released.
Pipeline owner Chevron cut off the flow of gas to the pipeline. But the affected section was 19 miles long and was expected to burn for some time. Coast Guard Petty Officer William Colclaugh said Chevron had begun an operation to inject nitrogen gas into the line to help extinguish the blaze, but it was unclear when and how that would affect the fire.
In the meantime, Colclaugh said, efforts were concentrated on keeping the oil-laden barge cool, to avoid a worse fire and the release of any oil.
Three of those injured had been hospitalized, treated and released but one was taken to a Baton Rouge burn unit and was in critical condition, the Coast Guard said. Their identities were not released.