PetCoke and Coal in Plaquemines restoration


October 2012 Meselhe et al at the Water Institute and ARCADIS--in regards to necessary environmental analysis for the RAM terminal proposal:

"debris and dust generated during the loading process would be captured in the outfall channel and transported into the marsh areas potentially causing environmental issues. The investigation of water quality was not part of the scope of this analysis, but should be investigated to assess such environmental impact."

August 2013 Ben Bloch, Times Picayune 

"Before the meeting, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser contended, 'We have never had coal runoff get in the river from a hurricane. We have had a little get off their facilities, but not into the river, and they have always cleaned it up well...'"

August 2014 Yesterday, after tips from several community members and consulting river scientists, we traveled to the Lake Hermitage marsh restoration to see if the dredge material CPRA is building wetlands with contains the coal and petroleum coke that United Bulk and Kinder Morgan -IMT dump in the river. 

These facilities have been spilling coal and petroleum coke in the river regularly, probably as long as they have been operating.  Here's an example of the United Bulk facility on a sunny summer day:

There are so many problems with coal and petroleum coke coming off this facility, even the operators don't know them all. Although the company is required to clean up spilled material, most is not cleaned up.

So what happens when you use the river sediment these companies dump in to build wetlands?  What we found will not shock you. 

Only about 5 acres of the Lake Hermitage marsh nourishment project were surveyed. This was our first look at this issue, and we would like to visit other areas of the restoration site. We also reported this problem to the National Response Center hotline--report number 1093681.

Below are a series of photos we took yesterday.  each photo should have geographical coordinates embedded in the file, but here's where we went: 29.560557°, -89.859783° off Lake Judge Perez.

For about half of a 5 acre area, the ground was coated in dice-sized pieces (4 mL) of coal and petroleum coke, at about 25% of the visible surface. About every meter or so, there was a golf ball sized piece (40 mL) or a baseball sized piece (200 mL). Softball sized chunks were found (2000 mL).

We're still in the process of adding this up, and adding up what it means for DEQ's non-enforcement of the Clean Water Act for these facilities. We've asked the agency to visit this site, as well as the entire 500 acres.  We have had reports that there is so much coal and pet coke, that it can sabotage the pumping operation. Of course, this material contains heavy metals like arsenic and mercury, residual oils and PAHs, and can make soils acidic.

We will update this blog with who in our government to write to make sure this is fully investigated.  

None of this would need investigation if United Bulk and Kinder Morgan merely followed the law.  A certain Parish leader has denied, since 2012, that coal and petroleum coke falls in the river at all, and that these facilities clean it up when spills occur.  We know that our public officials are not fans of science, but this is the first instance I am aware of in which they are in denial of the law of gravity.   

The Water Institute has asked CPRA, DNR, and DEQ to investigate the impacts of these coal facilities to our wetlands, and our state agencies have refused. We have asked the Army Corps to consider following the recommendations from their fellow engineers at the Water Institute, and they have, so far, ducked their responsibility to investigate the implications of dumping coal in federally funded and federally protected restoration projects.

This is a sad day, but we cannot look away from this kind of incompetence.


about every meter, there's a golf ball sized piece of coal or pet coke, in the marsh the state is trying to restore. 

a softball sized piece

Shiny coal mixed in with mud and sand

regular clusters of golfball to baseball-sized coal and petroleum coke spread throughout the nascent soil layer

Dice-sized coal and petroleum coke spread throughout (est. 25% of surface)  a couple of acres --about half of the area surveyed.


The clusters of similar-sized materials suggest that physical forces are sorting the material, which tends to be less dense than sand. 

Below is a link to a  Video Playlist:

Thanks to Warren Lawrence for transport.  James Hartwell is part of the Water Resources team at GRN.  Scott Eustis, M.S. is GRN's Coastal Wetland Specialist.


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