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Texas oil spill impacts many

Just two days prior to the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill, the Texas coast experienced a "crude" awakening. Near the Texas City Dike, there is an area called the “Y” where three bodies of water meet. In this area, a 585-foot, Liberian-flagged ship collided with a barge in-tow owned by Kirby Inland Marine. The collision caused 168,000 gallons of a sort of bunker fuel oil to seep into Galveston Bay.

the barge that was struck on Saturday
Manda Emery/ Coast Guard

The captain reported the spill. Those involved in the accident were hospitalized for noxious fumes. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident. One mitigating factor is the fog, which resulted in poor visibility. The high volume of traffic is also under consideration. The barge was carrying nearly 1 million gallons of oil as cargo. This particular oil is thick and does not easily evaporate in water.

While the slick does not even come close to the amount of oil leaked in previous spills, the economic and the environmental impact is tremendous. The national bearing is great, mainly because of the area of impact. Texas houses one of the largest petrochemical ports (Port Authority of Houston). Due to the spill, the Houston Ship Channel was closed. Several (officials speculated 60) inbound and outbound ships were held in queue for transit. This means a delay of both people and resources. Even recreational cruise ships were left waiting. Both the Texas City Dike and the Bolivar Ferry experienced a closure. Likewise, hotels, fisherman, bait shops, and restaurants are bracing for lost business. A claims number has been established for persons or businesses that may have questions with regard to impact brought on by the accident. For claims, call 855-276-1275.

People are not the only ones struck by the spill. As 168,000 gallons of oil bled into the Gulf of Mexico, reports of wildlife injuries increased. Most people would assume that fish would be greatly impacted. Seven birds have become casualties, and the numbers have yet to plateau. Because of migration and roosting season, thousands of birds winter alongside the local birds. The spill also occurred relatively close to a bird sanctuary. Texas Parks and Wildlife reported that there could be “hundreds or thousands of species of birds in the area affected by the spill.” A rehabilitation center was set up to comply with the oiled shorebirds. Oil-slicked ducks, loons, pelicans, herons, and seagulls, which can be apprehended, are taken to a center where they are washed, warmed, fed, treated for parasites, and released. Other wildlife, like dolphins and sea turtles, are also under observation. The public is reminded to refrain from capturing any potentially affected wildlife and is urged to contact Wildlife Response Service at 888-384-2000. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is instrumental in dealing with sea turtles. Additionally, NOAA has new findings implicating crude oil as the cause of developmental abnormalities in marine fish, specifically citing the Exxon Valdez spill. They name the Gulf of Mexico’s amberjack and tuna as examples. The natural habitat continues to be a primary concern as recovery efforts persist.

The oil on the barge was safely offloaded to another vessel through a process known as lightering (not littering). Texans wasted no time; over 400 people have begun the clean-up process. Crews have dispersed over 70,000 feet of containment boom (Canon booms reverberate, a scare-tactic to keep birds away from the oil-slicked beaches and to contain oil.). Officials have launched the daunting task of caring for animals and picking up tar balls. For the time being, surfers (as usual) are largely unaffected. Because the oil is mainly on the East end, surfers can remain partaking on the West end. Yet, surfers know all too well how the weather correlates with the ocean. A significant change in wind direction, increase in wind chop, and currents could prove difficult with regard to oil containment. While no public advisories have been issued, the Coast Guard insists that people avoid contact with the oil. The Coast Guard plans to reassess ship channel traffic today.

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