Preparing the Port for an Oil Spill

The problems with stopping the flow of oil in the Gulf could serve as lessons here at home. Laurie Johnson spoke with Port of Houston officials about what plans are in place if a major oil spill occurs in the Houston Ship Channel.

Port of Houston authorities like to tout the fact that the Houston port is the second largest in the nation. But with all that tonnage, comes millions of gallons of oil stored in the 150,000 barge ships that come through the port each year.

Jim Edmonds is chairman of the Port Authority and says their role in an oil spill is to provide support for the U.S. Coast Guard.

“So in the case of a spill, the coast guard will take the lead and they would then have the equipment and the manpower to go ahead and actually attack the spill itself. We’re very fortunate in this particular case that the currents are carrying the oil away from Texas and no ship has arrived in the Port of Houston that’s had any oil on it.”

The port does not own any equipment such as boom or skimmers to respond to a spill. Edmonds says they help with manpower and money, if needed.

“The spills that we’ve had here have been minimal. The Coast Guard has reacted immediately, they’ve taken care of the spill. We’ve had to close down the channel for short periods of time only and commerce has not been interrupted, so we’ve been very fortunate.”

Last September a ship ran into a barge in the Houston Ship Channel. More than 10,000 gallons of oil leaked out, shutting the area down for about three weeks. There was a much smaller spill in 2004 and another in 1989, just months after the Exxon Valdez disaster.

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Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson


Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Laurie has covered a wide variety of topics for HPM, including the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and numerous elections. She is a frequent contributor to NPR and has been...

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