Pipeline leak clears South Choctaw area _lowres

Advocate staff photo by Travis Spradling -- EMS and BRFD stand by as OMI Environmental Solutions works scene of gas leak, seen up South Choctaw from North Cristy Drive

A high-pressure petroleum pipeline in Baton Rouge leaked early Tuesday morning, spraying out a fine mist that smelled like gasoline, prompting the temporary evacuation of several businesses on South Choctaw Drive.

No injuries were reported as a result of the release, and initial air quality readings by authorities were below levels that would warrant concern. The Baton Rouge Fire Department about 9 a.m. let evacuated businesses return to operation and reopened that closed section of Choctaw between North Cristy and North Harco drives, said Curt Monte, a spokesman for the Fire Department.

The pipeline, a joint venture of Shell and Colonial pipeline companies, was shut down immediately after the energy giant was notified of the leak about 7:30 a.m. Two related 12-inch and 16-inch pipelines remained closed Tuesday as the company tries to figure out what happened, said Kimberly Windon, a Shell spokeswoman.

The pipeline carries refined petroleum northwest from four downriver Shell refineries to a large storage tank farm in Baton Rouge. The section of pipeline shut down is located just north of Choctaw and north of a railway that parallels the four-lane road.

Monte said the first call complaining of a strong gasoline odor in the area came in at 6:02 a.m. A Fire Department HazMat team went out soon after to locate the leak, which was finally found behind the businesses, in the woods north of the railway, he said.

“It was high-pressure petroleum that came out in a fine, fine mist, like a fog,” Monte explained.

Simultaneously, at least 10 businesses were evacuated “out of an abundance of caution,” Monte said.

In addition to shutting down the pipeline remotely, Shell sent out its own HazMat crew to the scene as well as an oil response team, Windon said.

“We estimate that approximately one barrel of refined product was released on land with no impact to waterways,” Windon said.

It is not yet clear when the leak began.

Gary Maggio said he first smelled something funny when he arrived at Warehouse Restaurant at 12328 Choctaw Drive about 4:30 a.m. to open up his restaurant to serve breakfast to the industrial workers who work up and down that section of Choctaw.

As customers began coming in complaining of the same odor he’d smelled earlier, but now much worse, Maggio decided to call 911.

“I’ve never called 911 in my life,” he said.

The ensuing evacuation forced him to temporarily close and clear out of his restaurant, ruining much of the food he’d prepared and placing in doubt the rest of the day.