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On 25th anniversary of Exxon Valdez disaster, another spill

A barge carrying a reported 924,000 gallons of fuel oil is shown stuck here in the Houston Ship Channel
A barge carrying a reported 924,000 gallons of fuel oil is shown stuck here in the Houston Ship Channel
U.S. Coast Guard District 8 PADET Houston

In the days leading up to the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster -- when the eponymously named tanker ran aground and spilt approximately 257,000 to 750,000 barrels of crude off Alaska in Prince William Sound on Mar. 24, 1989 -- the U.S. was struck with another searing reminder.

For, on Mar. 22, off the coast of Texas City, Tex. in Galveston Bay, a barge collided with a 585-foot bulk carrier called Summer Wind, lugging some 924,000 gallons of fuel oil, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

It is unclear how much has been unleashed to date, and lessons from previous oil spills should have proved that early guesstimating can be dangerous.

The collision occurred in the Houston Ship Channel, a conduit for ships that leads into the Gulf of Mexico, ultimately stranding several vessels in the midst of the accident and resulting chaos. The event has, ironically, inconvenienced Exxon, which has a refinery in the area and relies on the channel.

A motor vessel called "Miss Susan" was towing the barge as it moved from Texas City to Bolivar at the time of the accident. Kirby Inland Marine, owner of both the barge and the motor vessel, "activated its emergency response plan immediately" the Guard said.

The sheen of oil made the nightly news over the weekend, less than a month shy of another anniversary: four years ago the Deepwater Horizon rig sank as an oil spill gushed off the coast of Louisiana, lasting nearly two months. That incident is still being tried in a New Orleans civil courthouse, where oil giant BP faces being fined untold billions in Clean Water Act penalties.

Yesterday, the National Wildlife Federation issued a press release focusing on the uncanny timing of the current spill, which is "spilling an unknown amout of heavy oil and threatening important habitat for migrating birds."

The Coast Guard says they have deployed more than 71,000 feet of containment boom on waters surrounding the incident site and along "sensitive shorelines in the area". An additional 192,500 feet of boom has been staged for possible deployment and another 20,680 feet ordered, they state.

Changing currents, winds and weather conditions have necessitated response officials to further extend oil recovery plans into the Gulf of Mexico and south along Galveston Island, the Guard says, too, as approximately 27 response vessels work to skim and contain the oil.

On Mon., the Coast Guard reported that 10 "impacted birds" were sighted and recovered for transfer to a wildlife rehab facility on Sunday.

They said in the Monday release:

Protection of the environment remains a high priority and responders are working in tandem with Texas Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Wildlife Response Services to respond to new reports that should arise. The Texas General Land Office has also deployed a bird rehabilitation trailer in the area for quick response to impacted wildlife.

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