Monday, May 18, 2015

April 17, 2015, diesel spill near confluence of Mississippi and Missouri Rivers

Blogmaster's note - This post is a month after this incident, which was reported regionally for about two days after the event. We recently read an account of the spill from Mike Clark of Big Muddy Adventures that was so compelling we wanted to make sure it was available on the web for those attempting to research this incident. It gives a very personal, powerful account of the downstream effects of the spill which were not reported in the media. Jump to his report here.

Some reporting -

Background - 
On April 17, 2015, the Phillips 66 Wood River Refinery reported a 25,000 gallon diesel spill (later estimates state 30,000) from a ruptured underwater pipeline in Cahokia Canal, near Wood River, IL, which flows into the Mississippi River just upstream of its confluence with the Missouri. The leak was stopped and US Coast Guard crews and contractors attempted to contain the spill in Cahokia Creek. It was not completely contained, as Mike Clark's account below shows.

There are several unique features on the river at this location. Just downstream on the Mississippi is the Chain of Rocks, a natural rock obstruction that used to create a series of rapids above St. Louis. The Corps of Engineers has created a bypass canal for river traffic (the Chain of Rocks Canal) that dives into Illinois before re-entering the Mississippi above St. Louis. This canal contains a lock and dam structure. This means that the stretch of the Mississippi that is bypassed by the canal is a "non-navigable" stretch of the river. The only non-navigable main stream reach on the river.

The St. Louis city drinking water plant intake is located on the Missouri side of the Mississippi just downstream of the Chain of Rocks on this reach. Because of the influence of the Missouri River here, Mo. Dept. of Natural Resources actually considers this water intake as Missouri River water, chemically and physically distinct from "Mississippi" water, despite the fact that it is technically the Mississippi River.

Also located on this stretch, just downstream but across the river from the drinking water plant, is Mosenthein Island, a wild treasure located in the midst of the St. Louis urban area. This island, reachable only by boat at most river levels, is owned by the Trust for Public Land and remains unmanaged. Big Muddy Adventures has been working to clean up massive trash deposits from the island for many years, and Missouri River Relief has helped out a few times. See some photos from this year's Confluence Trash Bash here. 

Here's an interactive map with some of the sites mentioned above -

It was here that Mike Clark, during a river cleanup canoe trip with local students, discovered the spill and reported it to the federal Emergency Response Team.

Read his report below....

Eyewitness account of downstream effects of the spill

by Mike Clark, Big Muddy Adventures, April 18, 2015
(NOTE - On May 6, two weeks after the spill, Clark reported no visual traces of oil remaining on Mosenthien Island.)

"Yesterday morning, while paddling across the Mississippi on an eco adventure with 15 students and staff of Incarnate Word Academy, we were overcome by the extreme stench of fuel oil.  As we landed on Mosenthein Island preparing to do a trash bash, we began to see the oil slick rolling in.  Another major oil spill? On the eve of the anniversary of the BP Gulf disaster?

I called the US Coast Guard to report it and they referred me to the National Response Center for such disasters.  At the end of my filing of the report while the overwhelming fumes and the horrible sight began to give me a headache, I asked if they had already received a report of this from upstream.  They put me on hold to check, and then came back with a definitive "no."   This was at 11:05 AM.

An hour later, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources called me to confirm and asked my location. I had not contacted the MO DNR.  I gave them exact description including river mileage and proximity to the St. Louis Water intake and treatment plant at Chain of Rocks.  Yes this oil spill is in the reach of our precious water supply.

"At 2:30 PM we returned to our take out having still seen no response except for a helicopter fly over, most likely US Coast Guard.  After some thought and conversation with my friend and river guide, Greg Poleski , I was coaxed into calling the news, KMOV and the Post Dispatch.  After reading the article, I am extremely concerned that either there is a lack of factual reporting, if not some form of a cover up to the size and scope of the disaster, or there is a grave error in their assessment.

"For the record, we took pictures and collected water samplings with oil obviously in it.  We watched over 200 pelicans seek refuge on a wing dike and sand bar unwilling it seems to enter the water with its oily sheen.  We paddled down the Mosenthein Chute where the stench and the visual of the slick continued to grow.  The immature bald eagle who nests on the island with his parents flew circles overhead.  The oil starting to collect on the sand and mud of the bank with the signs of game trails and tracks coming from the island to the water edge to drink.

Obviously, the deer, coyote, raccoons, eagles, herons, etc... are in trouble on Mosey.  So are we.  This is a refuge.  This island survives under the laws of nature.  An oil spill is way, way outside of those laws.  But not our laws regarding the protection against such corporations and people who make so much money and have become adept at the cover up, the negotiation, the refusal to accept any claim of guilt.

"Final thought.  For fifteen years, I have been paddling this amazing reach, the only 11 non-commercially navigable river miles of the Mississippi, with two pristine islands and most of its banks in the public trust.  For 12 years, I have been guiding this reach, and almost always, someone asks "what is that?" as we come into the Confluence and look upstream on our beloved Mississippi River with the refinery a glaring presence on the Illinois side, I mention that it is one of our nation's largest refineries and it sits in what has always been the American Bottoms.  And it has been a never ending concern to me because I do not believe, despite all of the assurances, that this refinery would not someday, have an "accident" and this reach will be poisoned, just as Valdez, and the Gulf Coast, and the pipelines all across this country have proven.

Today, we are witnesses to this.  It saddens me greatly.  But moreover, it angers me, that we are not rushing in to do whatever we can to fully contain, and then begin whatever can be done for a  clean up. It appalls me that the news organizations have buried this from front page, and in fact have simply reported what they have received as a press release.

"Who owns the water?  Who are River Citizens?  Will we all wake up to the glaring signs that our blue planet is in trouble and it is our own making?  Will it be too late?

"I have heard there are dozens and dozens of pipe lines crossing the river there. I'm afraid this incident though small by potential is just one of what has been and will be many more. They are not going to safe guard as they should, beholden to the financial shareholders as they are.  But you know all that. Missouri Coalition for Environment may take this and run with it.

"As it is, Swimming at Mosey may not happen for a while. I'm gonna run the chain this afternoon and check out the after effects now almost two weeks hence."

-Big Muddy Michael F. Clark
Owner, Big Muddy Adventures
Near the Chain of Rocks, St. Louis
email -

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