Citgo Oil Spill: 1 year later

June 19, 2007
By Theresa Schmidt

It's one year since the massive oil spill at Lake Charles' Citgo Refinery.The trouble began when very heavy rains overwhelmed storage tanks at the refinery. Nearly 2-million gallons of waste oil got away from Citgo.  The spill shut down the Calcasieu Ship Channel and Intracoastal Waterway for several days. And recreational areas were closed for the busy July 4th holiday.Of the 2-million gallons that Citgo could not contain. 840.000 gallons spilled into the Indian Marais, a nearby bayou and nearly 1.1 million gallons ended up in the Calcasieu River.

It was June 19, 2006, when a huge rain that lead to a series of events that ultimately caused nearly two million gallons of waste oil to escape from a containment area at the Citgo Oil Refinery. Public concern was widespread.  At the time, concerned citizen Dean Nungesser lamented, "It's the worst one that I've ever heard of and I've been here a long time. I hope that the wildlife doesn't get killed. I hope that the fish survive. I hope that they get all the oil up and get it to the way it was before the spill."

At the time, it crippled shipping and spoiled recreation as far south as Moss Lake. And people wondered about lingering effects. Kevin Natali is an environmental scientist with the State Department of Environmental Quality. In response to human health concerns, he says they tested water and seafood.  "In the fish, shrimp and crabs we saw no levels out of the ordinary."

He says it may be a year or more before studies into long term environmental effects are complete. "It's looking at everything that, when you look at a marsh, anything that's involved with a marsh down from the microscopic bacteria that lives in the sediment all the way up to the egrets and the birds that you see out there, the plants that you see, the fish that live there. It takes into account all of that."

The state's investigation concluded, among other things, that Citgo did not provide adequate operation and maintenance of its facilities and that certain oil skimmers had been inoperable for two years. An April 9th order and potential penalty notice issued by the state to Citgo has not yet been resolved. Explains Natali, "They have to do some follow up notifications on progress that they've made toward improving things and to ensure that this does not happen in the future."

Citgo has been ordered to provide a final report describing all actions taken in response to the June 19th rainfall by the end of November.

To view the state's Citgo Spill report click here.  Or read the compliance order and potential penalty notice.