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.