Texas

Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Texas Still Learning When It Comes to Oil Spill Response

Responders load hundreds of feet of boom onto vessels at the Texas City Dike in this U.S. Coast Guard handout photo taken March 23, 2014. More than 35,000 feet of boom has been deployed in response to an oil spill that occurred Saturday afternoon after a bulk carrier and a barge collided in the Houston Ship Channel, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

REUTERS /US COAST GUARD /LANDOV

Responders load hundreds of feet of boom onto vessels at the Texas City Dike in this U.S. Coast Guard photo taken March 23, 2014.

Two dozen boats and over 500 people are now involved in the response to an oil spill from Saturday that closed the Houston Ship Channel.

What spilled was a heavy fuel oil, called bunker fuel, which was carried in a barge that collided with a ship. Up to 168,000 gallons were dumped into the channel.

“Last ten years, I haven’t seen a spill like this,” says Larry McKinney, the head of a Gulf research institute at Texas A&M Corpus Christi. “Before that, we’d see them, seems like, every other year.”

McKinney knows a thing or two about the devastation of oil spills, having headed up natural resource protection for the State of Texas and working on spill prevention and response for decades.

“These spills here in Galveston are becoming less frequent. That’s the good thing,” he says.

A decade or two ago, McKinney says spills were more common and the state was less prepared. And now when spills do happen, there is more equipment stored along the coast, thanks to funding from a state fee on oil.

McKinney says it makes Texas the best state in the Gulf when it comes to a fast response. But what he says hasn’t improved is what to do about oil if it does reach delicate wetlands.

“I don’t think we’re any better prepared now to deal with clean up,” McKinney says. “What I’m afraid we’ll see, [and] I hope that we don’t see it, if there’s oil that reaches into wetlands and marshes, I hope we don’t see a bunch a people out there with big white pads in the marshes trying to pat the oil up. They will do far more damage that just leaving the oil.”

Eventually, he says bacteria and microbes eat up the oil.

But that’s onshore, what about the oil that may remain out in the Gulf?

“I’d be concerned with heavy bunker fuel, it might contain quite a bit of toxic material to it,” Paul Montagna, also with Texas A&M Corpus Christi, says.

Montagna studied the crude oil that spewed from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon drilling rig blowout.

“That was something that was unexpected — oil floats, so everybody expected the oil to come to the surface and not impact the deep sea,” he says. “But we found the opposite was happening. “

Some of the oil sank to the bottom of the Gulf where, according to Montagna, it killed off sea creatures and organisms that live thousands of feet below the surface.

That’s why he and other scientists say that while spills may have been polluting the Gulf for decades, there is still much to learn about how best to clean them up.

Comments

  • Tess Jordan

    OIl Spill Eater II is a Texas manufactured product that has been used by all 5 branches of the US Military, and has cleaned up over 27000 spills since 1989. Recently OSE II was used on the continent of Africa, where a spill from an oil and gas terminal leaked over 150,000 gallons of oil into the Atlantic ocean. Part of the spill was carried by currents onto the shoreline covering over 18 kilometers of shorelines and sensitive mangroves. OSE II was deployed immediately to contain the spill and prevent it from spreading further, on the open water, while a container load of OSE II was air shipped to the spill area. OSE II was used then applied to the shorelines, and sensitive mangroves. Within 3 weeks of starting the application of OSE II regulators could not tell there had ever been a spill. The oil company saved millions in natural resource fines and fees since there were none detected. The reason spills get out of control is the US Coast Guard and the US EPA refuse to allow spill response to advance, and this has been the case for the last 25 years. The contractors get paid time, materials and cost plus 10% so the longer a spill takes to clean up the more money they make.
    OSE II has proven for 25 years there is a safe for responders, non toxic to marine species means to actually permanently remove spills from the environment by converting them to CO2 and water. Its time the gate keepers, the Coast Guard and the EPA start doing there jobs of protecting the countries natural resources, since there is a safer more effective proven means to do so OSE II!

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