Crews are still working to contain an oil spill caused by a barge accident on the Mississippi River this week, stopping traffic and closing off a key thoroughfare for agricultural exports.
The spill was caused Sunday when an oil tanker carrying approximately 80,000 gallons of light crude oil hit a railroad bridge.
Though a few vessels have been allowed to pass, the Coast Guard reports that is unsure when the river will reopen completely to traffic. At least 50 vessels are delayed at the 16-mile-long closure.
The U.S. Coast Guard has deployed 2,800 feet of boom to contain the source of the leak, and skimming vessels have recovered more than 2,300 gallons of oil-water mixture since the incident occurred. They have employed lightering – a process to move cargo from one barge to another – to remove oil from the damaged barge.
Personnel from Coast Guard Sector Lower Mississippi River, Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment Vicksburg and the Coast Guard Gulf Strike Team from Mobile, Ala., are on scene as part of a unified command effort to oversee cleanup and salvage operations, the Coast Guard says.
The unified command consists of representatives from the Coast Guard, State on-scene coordinators from Mississippi and Louisiana and the owner of the towing vessel, Nature's Way Marine LLC.
Mississippi River vessel traffic queue management is ongoing. Vessels will be allowed to transit the area as soon as it is environmentally and operationally safe to do so, they note.
Another barge was reportedly damaged in the incident, though it did not leak.
Work continues on middle Mississippi
The latest incident adds insult to injury for river shippers, as work continues to eliminate rock pinnacles on the middle Mississippi River. Low water levels have exposed the pinnacles and impeded traffic.
On Tuesday, the Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis District reported that rock removal work has moved north to Grand Tower, Ill., where Newt Marine of Dubuque, Iowa, and Kokosing Construction of Frederickstown, Ohio, will remove approximately 64 cubic yards of rock from the navigation channel.
Nightly channel closures will be in effect from midnight to noon for roughly nine more days as the work continues.
"The Grand Tower project will yield permanent improvements to the Mississippi" said Col. Chris Hall, commander of the St. Louis District. "Rock removal, along with dredging and water management, is a critical component of the Corps' efforts to maintain a resilient and reliable navigation channel."
This graphic from the Energy Information Administration shows stretches of the Mississippi River are near record lows. The forecast is of 5 p.m. EST Jan. 29, 2013. For a larger view, click the graphic.