A weekend oil spill in the Houston Shipping Channel left one of “the nation’s busiest seaports” closed for at least part of the day today. The spill was caused by the collision of a ship with a barge and dumped as much as 168,000 gallons of oil into the water. The capacity of the barge, the Summer Wind, was close to 900,000 gallons; only about a fifth of the barge’s oil cargo was spilled into the water after the wreck.
Today is the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska. Eleven million gallons of oil spilled into the water during that offshore disaster. Just four years ago, 210 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico after the BP Deep Horizon rig disaster.
The cleanup for both the Exxon and the BP spills are ongoing; cleanup from this weekend’s spill is likely to last for some time as well. Because of wind and tidal action, the oil is contaminating waters in the Gulf of Mexico, rather than staying in the shipping channel and Galveston Bay area.
The barge involved was being towed by the Miss Susan, a vessel that has been involved in 13 incidents including two collisions, according to the Coast Guard, in the last 10 years.
The fallout from the collision and resulting oil spill has yet to truly be measured. The environmental damage will likely be substantial. According to the Houston Audubon Society, at least 60 birds have been found covered in oil. Cruise ships scheduled to come to port have been delayed. Fishing trips were cancelled and ferry service to Bolivar Island was shut down after the oil spill.
The Coast Guard has advised that people avoid contact with the spilled oil, but no health advisories have been issued.