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Tar balls washed up in Mustang Island State Park Sunday as oil from last week's spill in Galveston Bay continues to slide down the coast.
Clean-up crews were dispatched to the popular camping and swimming spot on the barrier island near Corpus Christi, about 200 miles from the site of the March 22 Galveston Oil Spill.
Nearly 170,000 gallons of bunker fuel spilled in Galveston Bay when a ship collided with a barge last Saturday. Currents and winds pulled some of the spill out into the Gulf. Federal and state officials said they are tracking the slick's movement.
In a press release Saturday night, the joint command said it was contacting cities and counties south of Matagorda Bay in anticipation of the oil's arrival.
The wind and waves that pushed a sludgy mess out of Galveston Bay have deposited sticky clumps of decayed oil on one of the most pristine places along the Texas coast.
The Texas General Land Office on Thursday reported that oil from a punctured barge had fouled at least 12 miles of Matagorda Island, an uninhabited sliver of land favored by migratory birds, deer, alligators and other wildlife.
The news was not a surprise. For days, state and federal authorities predicted the oil might reach the barrier island, some 80 miles southwest of where the barge spilled approximately 170,000 gallons of bunker fuel Saturday.
The Galveston Oil Spill oil reached Matagorda on Thursday March 27, 2014.
Sometime after the March 22 oil spill is declared contained, a team representing several federal and state agencies will decide whether the event warrants a full Natural Resource Damage Assessment.
Such assessments, which typically take about three years to complete, try to determine the type and amount of restoration needed to compensate the public for harm to natural resources and their human uses that occur as a result of an oil spill, said Tom Brosnan, an environmental scientist and communications manager in the Assessment and Restoration Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Response and Restoration.
Once the extent of the public damage is determined, NOAA and others can draft a detailed plan to restore the lost resources and identify parties responsible for paying for the restoration.
The three-step NRDA process begins with a pre-assessment, which has been underway since just after an oil barge and a cargo ship collided in Galveston Bay releasing more than 168,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil, Brosnan said.
Teams with members from NOAA, the National Marine Fisheries and several state agencies are conducting the pre-assessment, he said.
"In the pre-assessment phase, we start to get our arms around the magnitude of the event," Brosnan said.
The pre-assesment takes into account more than simply how much oil was spilled, he said. It considers the likely damage by the spill to such things as fish and other marine life, birds and wetlands and how that damage might impair the public's use of those natural resources, he said.
For example, if fish populations are diminished, then the public's use of that resource through recreational and commercial fishing is diminished and the public is due compensation. If birds are killed, public use of that resource through birding is diminished.
During the pre-assessment, teams take various environmental samples and may use mathematical models to help predict the fate and effects of the spill on the public's natural resources, according to NOAA documents.
The pre-assessment can take weeks to complete and won't be final before the initial oil spill response is done, officials said.
"We are in the very, very early stages of this — it's an evolving spill; it's still moving around," Brosnan said.
The pre-assessment ends when NOAA and its state and federal partners decide whether an event warrants a full Natural Resource Damage Assessmentprocess, Brosnan said.
If the answer is "yes," the second phase of the process — restoration planning — begins, he said.
"This entails further and more detailed study, including field and lab work and mathematical modeling to determine things like how many acres of wetland, how many fish, how many birds," Brosnan said.
The injury assessment takes into account both biological and economic damage caused by a spill to public resources, according to NOAA documents.
"At the same time, we start down a path of true restoration planning — here's what we think is the best way to restore this oiled marsh or this type of oiled bird or these oyster beds," Brosnan said.
The Natural Resource Damage Assessment trustees are required to draft a plan for implementing the restoration and to seek public comment about the plan, according to NOAA documents.
The final step in the process is to implement and monitor effectiveness of the restoration plan. It also includes identifying parties responsible for paying for the assessment, for the restoration planning and for implementing the restoration plan, according to NOAA documents.
"This is not meant to be a punitive action," Brosnan said. "We quantify the loss and go to the responsible party and say ‘Here is what we think you owe the public."
"They can either implement the restoration themselves, have us do it and pay for the restoration or they can refuse to do either, in which case we can go to court and perhaps come out with some damages."
While the lasting images of the Galveston Bay oil spill may be of oiled birds and beaches, some experts worry that the last damage will be in places that are more unseen.
Ecological experts say the 168,000 gallons could have lasting effects on the undersea ecosystem in Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
"We want to know if the oil is going to be toxic, and based on previous studies, we know that it is toxic," said Antionetta Quigg, a professor of marine biology at Texas A&M University at Galveston. "Given that plankton is food for high-traffic levels of fish, we think that they then become toxic, too."
Quigg said that fish in the polluted water will get a "double hit" from encountering oil both in their physical environment and their food sources.
While cleanup efforts are still underway to collect the thick, tarry heavy fuel oil from Gulf waters and shorelines, officials have said some of the substance could have sunk to the seabed as it picks up sediment. From there, the oil can smother or poison prey animals like shrimp or crabs, which could then start a chain reaction up the bay’s food chain.
For food at the bottom of the chain, a pollutant like oil can have harsh effects. But those effects can be muted by the short life span of some animals.
"Plankton divides fairly quickly, so as long as (the oil) keeps being cleaned up and moving offshore, we’ll have a new community popping up fairly quickly," Quigg said. "It will be detrimental perhaps for another few weeks, but then life should resume for something close to normality."
For other, larger animals, however, the recovery can take longer.
The Galveston Bay oil spill comes the same week that a study was released in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences that found evidence that some fish, including species of tuna and amberjack, could develop heart defects as a result of the oil spilled during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Another study released in December found that dolphins on the Louisiana coast were suffering from lung diseases and low birthrates in the wake the BP spill.
Whether those effects will be felt in Galveston remains to be seen. TAMUG scientists said that there was a fear earlier in the week that the dolphins that normally swim in the ship channel had fled the area, but on Tuesday they were seen following the university’s boat during a sampling trip.
Quigg said the university would continue studying the health of the Bay and the animals that live in it for years to come.
Other agencies are also looking out for the animals that are on the top of the food chain.
On Thursday, the Texas Department of State Health services issued a seafood consumption advisory for Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The advisory recommended that people not consume fish, shrimp or crab from areas where oil is present, and that any food that has already been fished, but has a hydrocarbon smell or taste, should be discarded.
U.S. Coast Guard inspectors found the bulk cargo ship that collided with a barge loaded with heavy fuel oil Saturday had problems with its navigational equipment.
The Summer Wind, operated by the Greek firm Cleopatra Shipping Agency Ltd., also had problems with its load lines.
Coast Guard inspectors found the violations during a post-incident inspection the day the vessels collided.
In addition, a 2013 Greek inspection of the Summer Wind found deficiencies with the ship's lifeboats, emergency lighting, firefighting equipment and onboard policy manuals.
Lt. Derricka De Jean, the chief of investigations for the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Unit in Texas City, said the Summer Wind was on its way to a Port of Houston dock when it collided with the barge that was under tow by the Kirby Inland Marine tugboat Miss Susan. The tugboat was moving two loaded barges from the Port of Texas City to the Intracoastal Waterway near the Bolivar Peninsula.
The vessels collided in heavy fog about 12:30 p.m. Saturday. At 12:35 p.m., the captain of the Summer Wind informed the Coast Guard of the collision.
Not long after, Kirby officials contacted Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and pledged to take responsibility for the costs, as required by law, the commissioner confirmed.
The collision resulted in more than 168,000 gallons, or about 3,800 barrels, of heavy fuel oil to spill into Galveston Bay.
The barge was carrying about 1 million gallons of thick, sticky oil.
Marine vessel traffic still is limited to daylight hours, and ships and barges going through the channels are monitored for oil in area channels.
The U.S. Coast Guard said incoming storms may keep responders from safely collecting oil in the water and along the shoreline.
“Response efforts will focus heavily on cleaning Pelican Island and north to the Texas City Dike until weather makes operations too hazardous for responders,” the Coast Guard said.
The Coast Guard and emergency responders have been working to clean oil out of Galveston Bay since Saturday when a barge and a cargo ship collided near the Texas City dike causing a spill of more than 168,000 gallons.
The stormy weather is expected to flush out pockets of oil that were previously unreachable. Once the conditions improve oil spill responders will reassess the area to update clean-up plans, the Coast Guard said.
A collision between a barge and a ship Saturday near the Texas City Dike spilled 160,000 gallons of heavy oil into Galveston Bay.
The barge was carrying about 924,000 gallons of bunker oil, according to a report from the U.S. Coast Guard.
The accident forced authorities to evacuate the dike and surrounding areas — and to close the Houston Ship Channel.
Coast Guard Capt. Brian Penoyer said late Saturday that 160,000 gallons, or 3,800 barrels, of the oil leaked from the barge into the bay.
Bunker oil or bunker fuel is a heavy crude and highly polluting oil that also is referred to bottom of the barrel oil. Penoyer said the oil does not evaporate quickly and the cleanup would take several days.
The two vessels collided about 12:30 p.m. at the intersection of the Texas Ship Channel, the Intracoastal Waterway and Houston Ship Channel. Coast Guard officials declined to say whether one vessel struck the other, saying the investigation was in its early stages. They would not say whether fog contributed to the accident.
By early evening, the entrance to the dike and the levee remained closed. But a steady stream of semitrailers and trucks carrying oil booms, mobile lighting towers, boats and heavy equipment rolled down to the end of the dike, where cleanup efforts were centered.
The closing of the ship channel also delayed shipping traffic in and out of the Port of Galveston including the return of two cruise ships, which were scheduled to arrive in Galveston on Saturday, Popoff said.
Galveston County Daily News Publishes Video on Website
A day after a barge collided with a ship near the Texas City Dike, oil that leaked from the barge found its way to shore along Galveston's East Beach.
As crews tried to contain the more than 160,000 gallons of fuel oil that leaked from a disabled barge near the Texas City Dike over the weekend, millions of dollars in commerce was either shut down or sitting at sea.
"There's absolutely no vessel movement at this time," said Jason Hayley, director of operations for the Port of Texas City, which has been closed since the Kirby Inland Marine barge collided with a ship. "Obviously it's a big impact. Right now it's similar to when we get closed due to weather. If the closure is protracted, it is going to be an issue for customers of the port."
Mike Mierzwa, executive director of the Port of Galveston, said it was too soon to determine just what the financial affect on the port would be since the safe zone established by the Coast Guard effectively closed the port for a while.
Jeff Nielsen is looking at the possibility of losing about $10,000 a week if the waterways don't reopen. The owner of Galveston Fishing Charter Company said he is unable to get his offshore boat out of the Galveston Yacht Basin.
Nature lovers and seafood lovers alike should be outraged at the oil spill in Galveston Bay.
What's so sad about this oil spill is that even if a great deal of money is thrown at this problem, this will have long-term effects on our ecosystem.
While I'm in favor of businesses that create jobs, I can see, and I hope others can, too, that we are connected with our environment.
If we dirty it, we compromise our health.
This spill, more than any other argument, is a case for using clean technology.
We can't continue to treat the earth so carelessly.
The long-range effect of this oil spill is that the wildlife which depends on the bay have been and will continue to be compromised.
Think of the beauty of our bay and the wildlife it supports — the beautiful ibis that have fished for crustaceans and other food sources in the bay, the pelicans that fly over the bay daily hunting for fresh catch.
Consider the other species that have been threatened before this oil spill occurred.
Theirs was already a fragile and tenuous existence and could likely be wiped out because of this oil spill.
What about the turtles, the salamanders, the frogs and the oysters that play an enormous role in helping to keep the bay water healthy?
We must demand that those responsible respond to the crisis this spill has created in our environment.
Galveston Bay should receive the tender loving care that it deserves after so devastating a spill. The damage is unthinkable and heartbreaking.
Of course, when a spill such as this occurs, we can't help but recall the devastating 2010 BP Gulf oil disaster.
We wonder what lessons can be learned from both incidents.
While the circumstances might be different, the effect on the environment is the same.
Wildlife is being compromised. We can't separate ourselves from our environment.
When wildlife is affected, we are affected as well.
The wildlife in the bay feeds us and helps keep us healthy in ways that we haven't begun to consider.
It will take some time and money for the process to begin. Even after all of that, we can't say how long the after effects of this spill will continue.
Meanwhile, each of us should write to our representatives to say how we feel about this spill.
In addition, we should be ever vigilant that those responsible not only respond to the immediate crisis — but also the long-term crisis — this has caused.
Each of us should ask ourselves what we can do to reduce our dependence on the demand for fossil fuel-based energy so that we can be better stewards of our environment.
This is a difficult idea for us to consider since so much of our economy depends on the use of such energy.
However, we must transition to a cleaner method of providing our energy needs.
In the meantime, those who use that energy will pay the price of these kinds of mistakes.
Maritime traffic continues to back up after an oil spill that has closed the Houston Ship Channel and left more than 100 vessels waiting to enter or leave.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Andy Kendrick says cleanup continues Tuesday toward reopening the waterway, saving animals affected by the oil and anticipating where the oil flow might go.
He had no immediate timetable for when the ship channel, which closed after Saturday's collision between an oil-hauling barge and a ship, would reopen. Kendrick says 54 ships waited to enter the channel and 48 were ready to leave Tuesday. Five additional ships waited to enter the nearby Port of Galveston.
Kendrick says 10 birds have died as a result of the oil spill. Four animal rehabilitation facilities are set up in the area.
Cleanup work continues two days after a barge struck by a ship in the Houston Ship Channel leaked thousands of gallons of heavy, tar-like oil.
The cleanup continues Monday after Coast Guard officials said up to 168,000 gallons were dumped from the barge's ruptured tank just inside Galveston Bay. The oil was detected 12 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico as of Sunday afternoon.
The Coast Guard's Houston-Galveston commander, Capt. Brian Penoyer, called it "a significant spill."
But he said emptying the barge Sunday removed the remaining pollution risk.
More than 380 people and a fleet of oil-retrieving skimmers and other vessels deploying containment booms around environmentally sensitive areas worked against the damage. Penoyer said more has been summoned.
Officials said scattered wildlife damage was reported.
Crews were working through the night after a barge carrying nearly a million gallons of especially thick, sticky oil collided with a ship in Galveston Bay, leaking an unknown amount of the fuel into the popular bird habitat as the peak of the migratory shorebird season was approaching.
Booms were brought in to try to contain the spill, which the Coast Guard said was reported at around 12:30 p.m. Saturday by the captain of the 585-foot ship, Summer Wind. Coast Guard officials said the spill hadn't been contained as of 10 p.m., and the collision was still being investigated.
The Coast Guard says the ship collided with a barge carrying 924,000 gallons of marine fuel oil. It didn't give an estimate of how much fuel had spilled into the bay.
The Houston Ship Channel, where up to 168,000 gallons of oil were spilled after a barge and a tanker collided last weekend, will remain closed until Tuesday, Coast Guard officials said late Monday.
Oil washed up on tourist beaches in Galveston Monday, two days after the collision, an official said.
The ferry between Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula, closed since the spill, is expected to reopen at 7 a.m. Tuesday, officials said. For now, services will be limited to between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
On Sunday, salvage vessels finished pumping about 750,000 gallons of heavy marine fuel oil from a partially sunken barge that leaked thousands of gallons of thick, oozing sludge into Galveston Bay after a collision with a tanker.
The oil spilled into Galveston Bay around 12:35 p.m. Saturday after the barge collided with the tanker, a Liberian-flagged bulk vessel named Summer Wind.
The barge was carrying 924,000 gallons of RMG 380, a special bunker fuel oil often used in shipping that doesn't evaporate easily and could not be attacked with the same kinds of dispersants used in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, experts said.
The towboat involved in the spill, the M/V Miss Susan, was pushing two barges en route to the Bolivar peninsula from Texas City when the accident occurred in heavy fog, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Government records show the Miss Susan has been involved in a string of 20 accidents and incidents reported to the Coast Guard in the past dozen years, including two other accidents that occurred when the boat was pushing barges containing oil or asphalt.
The barges and the Miss Susan are owned by Houston-based Kirby Inland Marine, which has one of the nation's largest fleets of barges and is heavily involved in oil transport nationwide, according to company and government information.
The oil in the barge involved in the spill was held in separate compartments. The damaged compartment contained 4,000 barrels, or 168,000 gallons, the Coast Guard said.
Heavy winds and bad weather meant that more than half of the spilled fuel was swept into the Gulf of Mexico, where even after three days it defied skimmers. Ultimately, responders fighting to keep the fuel from reaching the shoreline tapped shrimp boats, which used nets to pick up small clumped tar mats and tar patties partially submerged in the water.
Chemical dispersants, like those used to break up the crude flowing out of BP's failed Macondo well in 2010, are not as effective against the heavy marine fuel - and they generally aren't approved for inland waters anyway or shallow territory like Galveston Bay.