Oil spill in Galveston Bay: Communities, shorebirds at risk

March 24, 2014

A collision between a ship and a barge has caused a large oil spill off the coast of Galveston, Texas. The barge, was carrying 924,000 gallons of bunker fuel, a particularly thick, heavy type of fuel oil similar to kind of oil that did widespread damage in the San Francisco Bay area in 2007. The crash broke one of the barges tanks, releasing about 168,000 gallons. As of this morning, there seemed to still be no end in sight to the containment effort. Heavy currents, the thickness and stickiness of the oil, and the amount spilled are all complicating factors.The bunker fuel has so far been uncooperative with booms meant to keep it in place, and despite a strong and quick response, oil is washing up on beaches and spreading through the bay. [caption id="attachment_25047" align="alignnone" width="600"]Responders work together to load hundreds of feet of boom onto vessels at the Texas City Dike, March 23, 2014 Responders work together to load hundreds of feet of boom onto vessels at the Texas City Dike, March 23, 2014[/caption] The safety of people, including first responders, is still the primary concern of the containment effort. However, from the start, attention has also focused on migratory birds, who just are beginning to arrive in massive quantities in Galveston Bay, which is noted as a major stopover for several varieties of shorebirds. Compounding fears that the oil will wreak havoc on shorebirds are the oils physical properties, its stickiness most of all. As shorebirds dive for fish, they will be coated in the black, tarry oil. Coated birds, alive and dead, have already been recovered from the bay. Coming as it does so close to the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill, its difficult to not take note, yet again, what people are really talking about when they talk about cleaning up an oil spill. [caption id="attachment_25048" align="alignnone" width="600"]A barge loaded with marine fuel oil sits partially submerged in the Houston Ship Channel, March 22, 2014. A barge loaded with marine fuel oil sits partially submerged in the Houston Ship Channel, March 22, 2014.[/caption] Usually, recovery of oil following a spill in water is so minimal that even referring to it as a cleanup is an insult to those whose lives are affected. It is estimated that only 7% of the oil spilled in Prince William Sound after the Exxon Valdez spill was collected. And only about 3% of the oil spilled after BPs Deepwater Horizon spill was recovered from the Gulf of Mexicos beaches and surface. We will be following the spill in Galveston really closely, and we will let you know as major developments occur. For now were thinking about the people who depend on the bay for their livelihoods. And, of course, well be hoping for the best for the shorebirds.

One concrete thing we can all do now is demand that President Obama keep the Arctic safe from these kinds of devastating and lasting disasters. Please join us by signing this petition.

All photos in this post courtesy of US Coast Guard. The featured image is of the barge, partially submerged, being towed while leaking oil.

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