Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas


What We Know About the Galveston Bay Oil Spill


Ships dot the horizon off Galveston Beach, waiting to enter the channel near where collision happened March 22

Dave Fehling / StateImpact

Ships dot the horizon off Galveston Beach, waiting to enter the channel near where collision happened March 22

By Alex Dropkin

More than 150,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil spilled into the Houston Ship Channel on March 22, 2014 after a collision between an oil barge and a ship.

The spill released an estimated 168,000 gallons of bunker fuel, a thick bottom-of-the-barrel, cheap fuel oil for powering big ships. Because of both the air pollution created when it’s used and the threat of spills, there have been calls in recent years to ban bunker fuel.

Within days of the spill, the spread of the bunker fuel was apparent. Oil was detected 12 miles offshore into the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, March 23, and globs of tar and oil were seen along Texas City shores and beaches in the area.

Cleanup efforts are still in effect as of early April, organized by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and officials say they are at least several weeks away from fully containing the fuel. Two dozen boats and over 500 people took part in the massive cleanup.

The oil spill forced the closure of the shipping channel, making more than 80 ships wait to enter or leave the bay. Though the channel reopened four days later, the impacts are still uncertain.

One of the most noticeable, and troubling, effects is on shorebirds. The Coast Guard recovered 329 oiled birds from Galveston Bay to North Padre Island, nearly all dead, and has observed at least 500 birds with some traces of oil on Mustang Island. Birds come in contact with the oil as it washes ashore, and ingest the oil by preening. This has a number of fatal consequences.

Galveston Bay’s fishing industry could be hurt by the spill, too. Spawning fish in the area where the spill occurred left embryos vulnerable. A recent study found that some fish embryos developed deformities because of the 2010 BP Oil Spill, and concerns are that this spill will have similar effects.

Latest Posts

Army Nuclear Reactor Barge Headed For Dismantling In Galveston

Sometime this winter, an historic sea vessel will float into Galveston. But you won’t be able to take a tour of it. In fact, you probably won’t be allowed to get close to it. Because the big barge is radioactive. A half century ago, the U.S. Army came up with what sounded like a great […]

NTSB: Coast Guard Could Have Done More to Prevent Galveston Oil Spill

U. S. Coast guard investigators are reviewing testimony they heard during a four-day hearing held last week in Galveston. They’re trying to learn what might have prevented the collision of a freighter with a barge carrying fuel oil in March. Some of what they heard points a finger right back at the Coast Guard. Along […]

How Budget Cuts and Oil Spills Threaten ‘World’s Most Endangered Sea Turtle’

Around this time every year, female Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles arrive like clockwork on Matagorda Island, on the Texas Gulf Coast. “During the day they’ll craw up, usually closer to the dunes, and they’ll dig out an area and they’ll lay a nest of several eggs,” says Jeremy Edwardson, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife […]

Experts Fear Impacts of Oil Cleanup on Texas Gulf Coast

MATAGORDA ISLAND, TX — Recovery efforts continue weeks after a barge accident in the Houston Ship Channel dumped tens of thousands of barrels of oil into Galveston Bay. That oil kills wildlife and damages the environment. But some are worried the cleanup itself could also disturb the ecosystem along the Texas Gulf Coast. Nowhere is […]

This is What the Oil Spill Looks Like on Matagorda Island

Weeks after a large oil spill in Galveston Bay, it’s still having an impact on sensitive wildlife habitats along the Texas Gulf Coast. On Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took reporters to see the impacts on Matagorda Island, an important wildlife refuge for migratory birds and several endangered species. Workers are now busy cleaning up […]

Four Years After BP Spill, Settlement Money Slowly Trickles In

In the aftermath of the 2010 BP oil spill, the worst in US history, the Gulf Coast is still adding up the costs of the disaster on coastal species and the ecosystem as a whole. In the National Wildlife Federation’s updated annual report on the status of the Gulf Coast, the foundation lists several criminal […]

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »