Stretch of Mississippi River in Ky. reopens after oil spill

SATURDAY UPDATE:  The U.S. Coast Guard says a 17-mile stretch of the Mississippi River that flows through Kentucky has reopened with restrictions after it was closed following a collision between two tow boats that spilled more than 120,000 gallons of oil into the waterway.
    
The Coast Guard closed the Mississippi from mile markers 939 to 922 after Wednesday’s collision near Columbus, Kentucky, damaged at least one barge carrying slurry oil. Officials said the cargo tank ruptured, causing tens of thousands of gallons of oil to spill into the river.
    
The Coast Guard said Saturday that vessel traffic on the affected part of the river was open, with a safety zone in effect from mile marker 938 to 934. The Coast Guard says vessels can only travel one way per 12-hour period.

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ORIGINAL STORY:

Cleanup on the Mississippi River near Columbus, Kentucky, is far from over. The Coast Guard says less oil than they thought spilled into the river.

Two tow boats collided Wednesday night, rupturing a tank on a barge. The Coast Guard says the tank had the potential of spilling 250,000 gallons of clarified slurry oil, but the tank was not completely full.

The Coast Guard believes instead around 120,588 gallons spilled into the Mississippi River. The Coast Guard says every oil spill is different, but the kind of oil in this spill does not float on the water. Instead, it either clumps together and sinks or is suspended in the middle of the river. This can be difficult with river currents, because they first have to find where the oil is and then where it could go.

Coast Guard BM1 Kenny Tucker says seeing the oil in this kind of cleanup can be difficult.

"We have to utilize different things, like sonar and other absorbents, to show where the oil is at at any given time," Tucker says.

As of right now, the Coast Guard says there has been no shoreline contamination and no fish kills, but before they can start river cleanup they have to start at the source. Tucker says the oil is very thick, so the Coast Guard is working to heat up the oil before they can move it.

"To move it, it has to be at a certain temperature. So, we are, at this time, heating up the remaining tanks that are not punctured," Tucker says, "Then move the barge from the area."

The part of the river from mile marker 939 to 922 is still closed. As of noon Friday, a total of 38 boats and barges are queued on the river waiting for it to reopen, which can mean a lot of money. As for how soon the Coast Guard can reopen the river, they say they’re working as fast as they can to reopen it and make sure everyone is safe.

A total of 31 Coast Guard units from around the country traveled to the area to help with the cleanup. There have been no injuries in cleanup so far.

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