Monday, March 24, 2014

Barge Spills Oil Off the Coast of Texas Endangering Birds

A barge off the coast of Texas has spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil endangering the habitats of tens of thousands of migratory birds. On Saturday March 22, 2014 a barge collided with a ship off the coast of Texas and spilled a fifth of its almost million gallon cargo of heavy crude oil. Although crews worked feverishly to contain the spill with booms and empty the remaining oil from the leaking barge, much of the oil is unrecoverable.

Globs of black tar have already began washing up on shore and a sticky, oily substance, has been detected along the shoreline of the Houston City dike.

The oil is expected to contaminate the popular nearby bird habitats. This is of particular concern as we approach the peak migratory shorebird season. On Sunday birds covered with oil were already being recovered. With important shorebird habitat on both sides of the nearby ship channel it is very likely that this spill will have a very harmful impact. Another sanctuary to the east known as the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary attracts 50,000 to 70,000 shorebirds to shallow mud flats.

"This is a significant spill," said Capt. Brian Penoyer, commander of the Coast Guard at Houston-Galveston. He further indicated that the currents, tides and wind were scattering the spill. "Containment was never a possibility in this case," he concluded.

The spill has caused a backup of ship traffic in the area, including a number of cruise ships. It has also shutdown local fishing on the first weekend of spring.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a powerful supporter of the fossil fuel industry, has directed all necessary state resources to assist with the cleanup.

The barge is owned by Kirby Inland Marine, the nation's largest operator of inland tank barges and towing vessels and lists environmental excellence as one of its seven core principles. In 2011 they were recognized by the state of Texas for their efforts to protect coastal environments. Jim Guidry, who is in charge of the company's vessel operations, said "Safety is one of our franchises to operate and so we focus on safety and navigation safety in training."

This oil spill is but one of two by Kirby owned barges in the month of March. Earlier this month another of their fuel oil barges collided with a rice tanker in the Ship channel. Last April two fuel tank barges exploded while they were being cleaned injuring three people.

The fact that Kirby is about as good as it gets when it comes to shipping oil is indicative of just how dangerous it is to move oil by sea.

© 2014, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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