By Alison Sider
Marathon Petroleum Corp. (MPC) joined industry groups Tuesday in urging the U.S. government to keep Mississippi River water levels from falling to the point where barges can't carry crude oil to refineries on the Gulf coast.
"MPC's marine operations depend upon the Mississippi River to move crude oil and transportation fuels, along with other products," spokesman Shane Pochard said in a statement. "We believe it is imperative" that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers "take action to address this problem," Mr. Pochard added
Barges have become increasingly important in transporting domestic oil production. New drilling techniques have unlocked oil trapped in rock formations in the Dakotas and other areas that have yet to be reached by pipelines.
An estimated 700,000 tons of crude oil and 1.3 million tons of petroleum products will be transported on the Mississippi in December and January, according to figures from the American Waterways Operators, the national Waterways Conferce, and Waterways Council Inc.
Bob Anderson, a Corps spokesman, warned that if there's no rain soon, the water level in St. Louis could drop to the point where river navigation will be affected.
In a letter asking President Barack Obama to declare an emergency Tuesday, 18 industry groups said waterborne commerce on a portion of the river will be "severely impaired" by the middle of next month unless action is taken to restore the water level.
The letter asks that the Corps remove rock pinnacles near the Illinois cities of Grand Towar and Thebes and to release enough water from the Missouri River reservoirs to sustain commercial navigation.
"The crisis was created by this year's historic drought conditions and will come to a head now that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has begun to implement plans to reduce the release of water to the Mississippi River from dams on the upper Missouri River," the letter stated.
But Mr. Anderson added that water released from a reservoir in Minnesota is making its way toward St. Louis, and could provide some relief.
However, Jody Farhat, chief of the Corps's Missouri River Basin Water Management Office, said the Corps isn't authorized to increase the amount of water it releases from reservoirs into the Missouri River in order to aid navigation on the Mississippi River. The Missouri River is a major contributor to the Mississippi.
Farhat added that the Mississippi River can expect lower flows than normal.
"Our winter releases this year are going to be at reduced levels because of the drought. the Missouri River reservoirs are drawn down significantly due to the drought."
Ms. Farhat said the normal winter release rate will be lowered from the usual 17,000 cubic feet per second to 12,000 cubic feet per second this year. That release rate will be reduced incrementally over the coming weeks.
-Write to Alison Sider at firstname.lastname@example.org
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