Oil spillIn echoes of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, oil is washing ashore in Galveston, Texas today and reports of oil-contaminated birds and other animals are multiplying – the result of a collision Saturday in Galveston Bay between a ship and a barge carrying nearly a million gallons of heavy oil.

There were no serious injuries reported among the crew members of either vessel, although two workers from the barge were taken to a nearby medical center as a precaution.

According to news sources, the collision ruptured one of the barge’s storage tanks, leaking an estimated 160,000 gallons of bunker oil --a heavy crude and highly polluting oil – into the bay. Experts say bunker oil does not evaporate quickly, a factor which will prolong cleanup efforts.

Hundreds of clean-up workers

Approximately 400 clean-up workers are already on the scene, with more expected. Tens of thousands of feet of booms were deployed to try and keep oil from reaching environmentally sensitive areas, but that strategy was only partially successful, and oil is washing ashore in Galveston and nearby areas.

In addition to extensive environmental and economic damage, the accident is causing chaos on land and sea:

  • The Coast Guard has closed access to the Houston Ship Channel -- one of the nation’s busiest ports – leaving approximately 45 large vessels waiting in the Gulf of Mexico, including Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise ships bound for Galveston.
  • Authorities were forced to evacuate the nearby Texas City Dike and hurricane protection levee.
  • Ferry operations between Galveston and Port Bolivar have been suspended, as is traffic in and out of the ports of Texas City and Galveston. High school students who normally travel to school by ferry will now have a much longer bus ride around the bay.
  • The Texas City Ship Channel and Seawolf Park in Galveston have been closed to fishing.

“This is an extremely serious spill,” said Coast Guard Capt. Brian Penoyer. “This is a persistent oil. It’s a large quantity. It will spread. People should be aware of that.”

The Coast Guard is investigating  the accident.