SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

March 24, 2014

Oil spill cleanup impedes Texas ship channel

TEXAS CITY, Texas — A barge that once carried some 900,000 gallons of heavy tar-like oil was cleared yesterday of its remaining contents, a day after the vessel collided with a ship in the busy Houston Ship Channel and leaked as much as a quarter of its cargo into the waterway.

Coast Guard officials said that up to 168,000 gallons were dumped and that oil from the ruptured barge had been detected 12 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico as of yesterday afternoon.

“This is a significant spill,” Capt. Brian Penoyer, commander of the Coast Guard at Houston-Galveston, said.

But he said the emptying of the barge yesterday, a process known as lightering as contents are transferred to other vessels, was equally significant.

“The remaining risk of pollution, we’ve removed that,” he said.

More than 380 people — “and we’ve ordered more,” he said — plus a fleet of oil-retrieving skimmers and other vessels deploying containment booms around environmentally sensitive areas worked to mitigate the damage.

Officials said they had scattered reports of wildlife damage but no specifics. Some black tar-like globs, along with a dark line of a sticky, oily substance, could be detected along the shoreline of the Texas City dike, a 5-mile-long jetty that juts into Galveston Bay across from a tip of Galveston Island.

“That is the consistency of what the cargo looks like,” Jim Guidry, executive vice president of Houston-based Kirby Inland Marine Corp., the nation’s largest inland barge company and owner of the barge, said when the substance was described to him at a news conference. “We’re very concerned. We’re focused on cleaning up.”

He said the company was taking responsibility for the costs. The barge was headed to a shipyard.

The channel, one of the world’s busiest waterways for moving petrochemicals, was shut for a second day yesterday. As many as 60 vessels were backed up both trying to get out and get in.

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