Wildlife rehabilitators are decontaminating dozens of alligators, brushing their pointy teeth and scrubbing their scaly hides in the weeks after a pipeline rupture dumped 300,000 gallons (1.1 million liters) of diesel fuel into a New Orleans area wetland.
Diesel poured into the area outside the New Orleans suburb of Chalmette on Dec. 27 after a severely corroded pipeline broke, according to federal records.
Seventy-eight alligators have since been rescued, and 33 of them had been cleaned and released by Friday into a national wildlife refuge located in New Orleans and about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the spill site in St. Bernard Parish, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said.
Cleaning a six-foot-long (2-meter) alligator on Thursday required eight people: four holders, two scrubbers, one person with a hose for hot-water rinses and one to change the wash water, said Laura Carver, who became the department’s oil spill coordinator in February 2010, less than three months before a massive BP oil spill off Louisiana in the Gulf.
Carver stated that December’s diesel spillage had a significant impact on wildlife, compared to other spillages in Louisiana.
Rehabilitating that many alligators at once “is a new one for us,” Carver said.
She explained that an old-fashioned mop handle is used to keep the jaw of the alligator open while it’s teeth are cleaned.
The teeth cleaning is done at the end of a series body washes that use gradually lower concentrations of Dawn dish soap to remove gunk. “They literally wash their mouths with soap. It’s the only thing that works,” Carver stated.
She stated that almost all the spillage went into two artificial lakes, with the smaller one completely covered in diesel.
The vast majority of the contamination has been removed from the ponds. Gregory Langley, a spokesperson for Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, said that contractors for Collins Pipeline Co. of Collins (Mississippi) are currently working on plans to remediate contaminated soil.
Collins Pipeline, a subsidiary of New Jersey-Based PBF Energy, had known about corrosion on the outside of the pipe at the site of the spill since an Oct. 2020 inspection, according to federal records. After a second inspection revealed that the corrosion wasn’t severe enough to warrant immediate attention, Collins Pipeline delayed repairs. According to records, the company was still waiting for permits and expected to begin the work later in the month.
The Gulf Coast is in constant danger of spills from corroded oil and gas pipelines, said Dustin Renaud, spokesman for the environmental nonprofit Healthy Gulf.
“It is time to take a systematic approach in reviewing the vulnerability of our oil-and-gas infrastructure, and begin the process of repairing these rust buckets,” he wrote in an email.
The spilled fuel killed about 2,300 fish in two pits from which dirt was once excavated for construction. Carver stated that most of the fuel spilled was bait and minnows, with some shad and gar and small bass.
Noise-making cannons have been set up in the area to keep birds and animals away, the federal records show.
Most of the alligators were brought in within two weeks of the spill, but seven were rescued this week, Carver said.
More than 100 animals found dead included 39 snakes, 32 birds and nine frogs.
Although 23 live birds were found, only three survived the combination of diesel and cold weather, Carver said. Two of the birds were released, and another is being treated.
The department killed three alligators that were more than 8 feet in length, Carver stated. She said they were “in rough shape” and in deep diesel.
Carver stated that
Birds, and smaller reptiles, get their mouths swabbed, frequently as soon as they are captured or brought in.
Federal records show that Collins notified authorities the night of Dec. 27, within an hour after going to the site and nearly nine hours after shutting down the pipeline because meters indicated a likely break.
Langley did not comment on whether the department considered that time lapse to be a problem. However, the investigation is ongoing.
” “Once the investigation has been completed, the department’s enforcement section may be asked if any environmental regulations were violated,” he wrote Friday in an email.
Langley stated that the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office is conducting the state investigation. Friday’s call to the office was not returned.
The alligators released in Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge include 11 babies less than 18 inches (46 centimeters) long.
Carver stated that
Gators must wait until all the polluted food has passed through their digestive system before they can be cleaned.
Although the babies were all located near one another, they shared a childdie pool. However, each baby has its own pool in a plywood enclosure.
” We’ve discovered that cyclone fencing doesn’t work for larger gators who love to climb,” Carver stated.