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Barge spill in Houston Ship Channel, 3-24-14
The barge that spilt tens of thousands of gallons of marine fuel Saturday has since
been removed from this site in the Houston Ship Channel.
On the weekend of the 25th anniversary of the disastrous Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, officials announced that a collision of a barge and a ship in the busy Houston Ship Channel spilled as much as 168,000 of its nearly million-gallon cargo of thick, sticky marine fuel called RMG 380, “a special bunker fuel oil often used in shipping that doesn’t evaporate easily.” The channel was still closed at the moment this was written, leaving at least 80 ships unable to get in or get out. The U.S. Coast Guard said part of the channel could be reopened soon, but they offered no timeline for that or for containing the spill. Cause of the collision is under investigation.

Two of the six-member barge crew were treated from exposure to fumes. Such exposure can irritate lungs, eyes and skin, and the “vapor may contain hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas which can be harmful or fatal if inhaled,” states the Material Safety Data Sheet.

Skimming gear and thousands of feet of absorbent oil booms were set up to protect delicate ecosystems that could be affected by the spill, which workers are still trying to contain. The barge has been emptied of the remainder of its oil and moved out of the channel. Officials called it a "significant" spill though it was a small fraction of the 10 million gallons spilled by the Exxon Valdez in 1989 and the estimated 210 million gallons of the Deepwater Horizon leak by BP in 2010. Nonetheless, some wildlife consequences are already apparent:

...Richard Gibbons, conservation director for the Houston Audubon Society, said he had already received reports and photographs of oiled birds at the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary near the spill. Staff there reported smelling the oil on shore, but had yet to spot the oily sheen on the water.

Oiled birds that have flown into the sanctuary, Gibbons said, include ruddy turnstones, laughing gulls and American white pelicans, and some shore birds have also appeared with oil — a sign the oil has made it to shore.

The sanctuary attracts 50,000 to 70,000 shorebirds annually to its shallow mud flats. Gibbons said he was working with state officials responding to the spill to ensure the environmental effects are limited.

The Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound killed more than 250,000 seabirds in nearby Cook Inlet. The spill spread nearly 500 miles south. Fishing villages along the coast had their livelihoods destroyed. At The Guardian Monday, Martin Robards, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Arctic Beringia program, noted that oil still persists beneath rocks and pebbles in Alaska where the Exxon Valdez split open, "sea otters have only just recovered after 25 years, and some species such as Pacific herring and the fisheries reliant on them are still not recovering at all, despite Exxon’s overtly optimistic prediction of a quick and full recovery of Prince William Sound."

All part of the price paid for our addiction to fossil fuel.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Mon Mar 24, 2014 at 10:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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