Galveston Oil Spill Closes Houston Ship Channel, Threatens Wildlife

Image: Galveston Oil Spill Closes Houston Ship Channel, Threatens Wildlife

Monday, 24 Mar 2014 08:04 AM

By Nick Sanchez

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A barge carrying one million gallons of marine fuel oil collided with another ship Saturday, spilling tens of thousands of gallons into one of the world's busiest transportation waterways, Galveston Bay. Six crew members were injured during the collision.

According to The Christian Science Monitor, U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Andy Kendrick said it appears that only one compartment of the ship with a 168,000-gallon capacity had been breached. The Houston ship channel between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula was immediately closed by the spill, stopping all water traffic from tankers to cruise ships.

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The Galveston County Office of Emergency Management's Michael Lambert said it was a "significant spill," but not because of the amount of oil.

"The real issue is that it’s in the ship channel, near environmentally sensitive areas. So there’s an economic impact and an environmental impact," he told the Los Angeles Times. Under particular threat are 50,000-70,000 birds at a nearby wildlife sanctuary.

It will likely take days to contain the spill, and crews have already been sent out to deploy oil booms to contain its spread.

Gov. Rick Perry released a statement about the spill, saying his office would "ensure the spill is contained and cleaned up with as little impact as possible to the environment and commerce. We are thankful to the responders and personnel who are working diligently to respond to this situation."

Spokesman for the Texas General Land Office Jim Suydam said the tanker was carrying "sticky, gooey, thick, tarry stuff." He added that it would be "terrible to have to clean up."

The Galveston spill comes almost exactly 25 years after the famous Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska that dumped 10 million gallons onto devastated wildlife. Four years ago, the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill released 210 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico.

"On the scale of the Valdez, this is not even a blip. It’s a lot of oil, but it’s not a Valdez or a Deepwater Horizon," said Lambert.

On Sunday, the Houston Audubon Society's Richard Gibbons said they had received their first reports and photographs of oiled birds at the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary.

Texas Parks and Wildlife spokesman Tom Harvey said "There could be hundreds or thousands of birds of various species in the area affected by the spill," and that a loon and a duck "both covered with sticky black oil" had been recovered.

Oiled birds are being triaged and taken to nearby trailers to be cleaned, fed, checked for parasites, and released.

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