Environmental Impact of Oil Spill

Clean up of the largest oil spill in Texas since 1994 continues near Port Arthur this morning. Crews are working to recover the 462,000 gallons of crude from the Sabine-Neches waterway. So far, most of the oil has been contained, but some has started to seep into sensitive eco-systems. From the KUHF NewsLab, Wendy Siegle reports on the spill’s current impact on wildlife and local residents, and the measures being taken to curb environmental damage.

Authorities say a major environmental disaster has been avoided because the spill is contained within the Port Arthur Ship Channel. They say it would have been much worse had it occurred in open water, like Galveston Bay for example. Oil sucking skimmer boats and the quick response by clean up crews didn’t hurt either.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson says the use of floating plastic walls, known as booms, has proven to be an effective way of preventing oil from entering sensitive ecosystems nearby.

“The oil, you know being lighter than water, floats on the top and the booms prohibit the oil from going any further.”
But the booms’ effectiveness was put to the test Wednesday. Winds shifted direction and some of the oil lapped over the top of the booms. Jamie Schubert is a biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife.

“Some of the oil was able to get through the deployed booms and enter into the Keith Lake marsh system. So now we have oil on the northern shore line of Keith Lake.”

Schubert says the area is used by wintering waterfowl including Blue-winged Teal and Northern Pintail. Since the spill, 12 oil-saturated birds have been spotted. Some of them have been recovered and one died after it was caught. The waterway is also important habitat for alligators, river otters and other small mammals. So far, officials say they haven’t seen any of them hurt. But with the oil seeping into wildlife areas, that could soon change.

Hilton Kelley, the founder of the Community In-Power and Development Association in Port Arthur says he and fellow residents are concerned with the air pollutants they were exposed to after the spill.

“It was a strong, a very strong chemical odor, to where it was almost like you couldn’t get a breath of fresh air.”

Kelley says many residents were exposed to the strong odor for about three hours.

“We do not know the long-term impacts of these particular chemicals because people were breathing this stuff for a long period of time.”

Those working on the clean up operation are optimistic about the outcome. But they agree that the effects of the 11,000 barrel spill may not be fully known for a while. Again, here’s biologist Schubert.

“Really right now we’re just in the mode of trying to assess what type of habitats this spill has impacted and as we get a handle on that we can really apply our past knowledge to really determine what is the long-term impact on habitats in those particular habitats.”

Officials expect clean-up efforts to continue for another couple of weeks.

From the KUHF NewsLab, I’m Wendy Siegle.

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PORT ARTHUR, Texas – The Coast Guard and agency partners have formed a Unified Command in response to an oil spill in the Port of Port Arthur, Saturday.Vessel Traffic Service Port Arthur received notification at 9:30 a.m. reporting a collision between the towing vessel Dixie Vengeance and the two barges it was pushing, and the 807-foot tank ship Eagle Otome. As a result of the collision, the Eagle Otome sustained damage in the vicinity of the number one starboard tank, which was reported to be loaded with crude oil. The initial estimate of spilled oil is 450,000 gallons.The Sabine Neches Waterway is closed to all vessel traffic along the City of Port Arthur’s river front from Intracoastal Waterway mile marker 276 to mile marker 289. The Coast Guard has established a perimeter around the vessels in the vicinity of the reported spill to ensure the safety of the vessels involved as well as the safety of the responders. U.S. Coast Guard video by Petty Officer Fredrick Petrat.