March 25, 2014

Oil Spill Off Texas Coast


Maggie: Officials are working to clean up an oil spill off the coast of Texas. And as Tom Hanson explains, the effects of this spill are already causing problems that could have long-lasting consequences.

Tom: Oil coats this pelican in Galveston, Texas. And a slick sheen can be seen on the water as the oil washes near the docks.

Captain Brian Penoyer: It is an extremely serious spill. This is a persistent oil. There is a large quantity. It will spread.

Tom: Coast Guard officials say a boat and barge collided in the Houston, Texas Shipping Channel Saturday, rupturing one of the barge’s storage tanks and spilling 168,000 gallons of oil.

Texas resident: It smells horrible.

Tom: The channel connects Galveston Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. It is one of the busiest shipping channels in the world. Dozens of ships remained at a standstill yesterday morning, unable to enter or leave the area. And that is having an impact on local businesses. Commercial and recreational fishing is a multi-billion dollar industry in Galveston Bay.

Vernon Milina: We have to divert them to other ports, such as Freeport, which is kind of a hassle for us, as far as trucking and stuff. It’s 20,000 pounds of fish. It’s not as easy just to bring here.

Tom: And it is not just hurting the economy. It could also affect the environmentally sensitive shoreline which contains a habitat for birds. Conservationists say the spill couldn’t have come at a worse time. It is at the height of migration season and the shorebird population has doubled to nearly 120,000.

Helen Drummond: We want there to be a healthy and productive place for them to come feed and rest. And having oil on the shoreline is not a healthy, productive place.

Tom: Drummond says if oil seeps into the sand and, ultimately, the food chain, the impact will be felt for decades. And, eerily, that is exactly what happened this week, 25 years ago, in the waters of Alaska’s Prince William Sound. It was one of the largest oil spills in U.S. history.

On March 24th, 1989, a tanker called the Exxon Valdez struck a nearby reef, pouring 11 million gallons of oil into the water. It had a devastating impact on the environment, killing countless animals that were exposed to the oil. And it is still polluting the water and beaches to this day. Just dig a few inches into the sand and you can find oil. That is why crews in Galveston Bay are rushing to keep the oil from the shore. Laying out about 35,000 feet of boom, which is like a large balloon that keeps the oil from spreading.

The cause of the collision is under investigation, but experts think heavy fog at the time could have been a factor.

Tom Hanson, Channel One News.

Maggie: The Coast Guard has dozens of vessels in the area working to clean up the oil spill.


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