GALVESTON — Northwest winds during the past two days have helped contain spilled heavy fuel oil to a few shoreline spots along Galveston Bay, officials said Monday.
Oil that leaked from a ruptured storage tank on a barge that collided with a cargo ship near the Texas City Dike has built up in areas on Pelican Island and along jetties on the north end of Galveston Island, but most of the oil is now in pockets drifting in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The environment has been moving the oil generally, since about early morning yesterday, to the southeast,” said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Brian Penoyer at a news conference Monday. “There are patches of heavy oil. Some of that remains in the Galveston Bay, mostly toward Pelican Island and the Port of Galveston channel itself.”
Some islanders were worried Monday about weather forecasts that predicted the wind would shift to the southeast and blow hard, which could drive the oil back toward Galveston beaches.
Penoyer said some of the oil that had attached itself to the jetties along the north side of the island could be dislodged and moved to other locations. He said environmental response teams were focused on areas where oil could be immediately recovered, even as some slicks were located as many as 12 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico
Crews continued to work Monday to clean oil from the water in Galveston Bay and from the island’s beaches.
In the bay, boats with skimming equipment worked to collect what oil still remained in the ship channel.
On land, yellow-suited response workers picked tar balls out of the sand on shorelines in Galveston and in Texas City. Workers also set up absorbent material along the shoreline to collect oil as it was washed in by the waves.
Tar balls have been found as far west as 29th Street in Galveston. City officials said the small sticky globs are easier to clean up than the black sludge that covered the ship channel shores near Boddeker Road.
“The agency response groups have been fabulous in coordinating the emergency response,” said Kelly de Schaun, executive director of the Park Board of Trustees. “It’s going to have a local impact, but in terms of magnitude and significance, it was minimal, and we’re very fortunate in that respect.”
The reported toll of the spill on wildlife has been limited in scope, so far.
On Monday evening, officials said seven oiled birds had been captured, seven more died and eight birds were verified as oiled but not captured.
“Surprisingly, we haven’t had a lot of wildlife effected,” said Richard Arnhart of the Texas General Land Office. “That has to do with the fact that it was a prompt response. Once you get out to the area where there’s wildlife, which we’ve done with all the contractors, there is a natural hazing that takes place and, thus, wildlife moves out of the area.”
Penoyer said based on the number of calls, response coordinators expected the number of recovered animals to grow in coming days.
Spotters for the Houston Audubon Society said early Monday they had seen at least 50 oiled birds at the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary on Bolivar Peninsula. The marshland in the sanctuary attracts up to 70,000 birds annually during the migration season.
As of Monday, it appeared that the sanctuary has so far been spared from the oil that washed ashore on the north side of Galveston. That could change depending on weather conditions, however.
Officials encouraged local residents to continue reporting any oiled animals they see and left open the possibility that another wildlife response unit would be activated in coming days. Meanwhile, boaters and fishermen have been told to avoid areas where oil might be present, but no health advisories were issued.
At a glance
To report wildlife injured by spill, call 888-384-2000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.