More than 300,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled near a levee outside New Orleans in December when a malfunctioning pipeline broke down.

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The spill was discovered on December 27 in St. Bernard Parish, east of New Orleans, but was not reported to the public. According to Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration documents, the pipeline was operated by the Collins Pipeline Company.

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Diesel spilled in environmentally sensitive areas is contaminating soil and affecting local wildlife. According to documents, a large pool of fuel was found a few hundred feet from the Mississippi River.

Roughly 50,000 gallons of diesel were recovered after the initial leak, according to documents, but cleanup efforts are still underway for the remaining leak.

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Guy McInnis, president of St. Bernard Parish, said animals affected by the spill had been taken to care by a nearby cleaning company.

Rust on the pipe was known for more than a year before the spill. Repairs were delayed and pipeline officials said the company eased the line pressure in November of 2020 and again in November of 2021 as it was yet to be repaired within federal time requirements.

In October of 2020, an inspection of the 42-year-old Merox Pipeline revealed external corrosion along a 22-foot (7-m) section of pipe in the same area as the spill. But repairs were delayed and the line continued to operate after subsequent inspections indicated that the corrosion was not bad enough to require immediate work under federal regulations, according to the Pipeline Agency.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, diesel is considered a highly toxic petroleum product that can kill fish and plants that come into direct contact with it. Fuel from small spills can evaporate or spill naturally in a matter of days but large spills can take months to degrade naturally.

A pipeline safety advocate said it was “crazy” that the rust had been known to spread for more than a year before spreading, yet fuel continued to flow through the 125-mile-long (200-kilometer-long) line. Flowing from a refinery in Chalamet. A storage terminal in Collins, Mississippi.

“It is particularly troubling to learn that an initial analysis of the Collins Pipeline deemed the pipe in such poor condition that it required immediate repair,” said Bill Carrom of the Pipeline Safety Trust. The Bellingham, Washington-based organization advocates for more stringent oversight of the country’s vast network of transportation systems for oil, natural gas and other hazardous fuels.

Collins Pipeline, New Jersey-based PBF Energy Inc. is a subsidiary of Parsippany. Company representatives did not immediately respond to emails and telephone messages seeking comment.

In a December 30 order to keep the line closed until repairs were completed, federal officials said, based on preliminary reports, that the likely cause of the spill was “localized corrosion and metal loss.”

A PBF Energy representative said in an October 2021 email to federal pipeline regulators that the company was still awaiting federal and state approval to repair rust found in the vicinity of where the spill occurred, according to federal records. Was being

Work was expected to begin later this month after the company received permits from the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, PBF Energy Regulatory Compliance Director Thomas McLane said in an email.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.