U.S. Coast Guard officials are keeping an eye on the weather while parts of an oil spill response effort move south to deal with oil that may be washing back landward from the Gulf of Mexico.
On Wednesday, the Coast Guard said incoming storms could keep responders from safely collecting oil in the water and along the shoreline.
There are 940 responders in the field working to clean oil out of Galveston Bay and along the seashore after a barge and a cargo ship collided near the Texas City Dike causing a spill of more than 168,000 gallons Saturday.
“We’ve been fairly aggressive from the time the incident happened until (Wednesday)” U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Sam Danus said. “We really stepped up efforts (Wednesday) morning to get ahead of this weather.”
Wind, rain and rough seas could all make it unsafe for responders to stay on the water and along the shore.
“One of the top priorities has been safety for the public and the environment, as well as the responders,” Danus said,
The National Weather Service forecasted a 60 percent chance of showers and isolated thunderstorms today, said Charles Roeseler, a meteorologist with the weather service. Winds will come from the southeast and are expected to be 15 to 20 mph, with gusts to 30 mph.
Conditions on the water will also make things difficult for oil spill responders.
Roeseler said Galveston Bay waters are forecasted to be choppy and occasionally rough, and on the Gulf of Mexico, the seas will be 5 to 6 feet, he said.
“Not the best day to be working on the beach or out over the water,” he said. “It’s pretty bumpy out there.”
The stormy weather is expected to flush out pockets of oil that were previously unreachable. Once the conditions improve, oil spill responders will reassess the area to update cleanup plans, the Coast Guard said.
Meanwhile, the wind and tide on Tuesday pushed oil about 12 miles offshore. A change in the wind and weather will likely push that oil to the southwest where the Coast Guard began sending responders and equipment Tuesday.
“The Unified Command has established a second Incident Command Post in Port O’Connor to prepare to protect the environment in the Matagorda area,” the Coast Guard said.
Nearly 1,000 people have volunteered to help with the oil spill cleanup, according to the Galveston Bay Foundation.
Both the foundation and the Coast Guard said no more volunteers are being accepted.
The foundation is tasked with managing the volunteer operation, but, so far, volunteers have not been called into action. Foundation President Bob Stokes said Friday may be the soonest volunteers would be called in.
“There is a database that currently includes a large number of volunteers that have been waiting patiently to volunteer, and will be utilized first,” the Coast Guard said. “Once operational needs exhaust the list, new volunteers will be accepted.”
Area residents can still report oiled wildlife sightings at 888-384-2000 or emailing wild firstname.lastname@example.org.
But while many still wait in the wings, Galveston County’s Community Emergency Response Team volunteers have been involved since the first day of the spill.
Volunteers with the team have stood along the coastline watching for oil; they’ve manned the emergency wildlife hotline and relayed information to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife representatives. They’ve helped transport oiled wildlife to rehabilitation centers, said John Herrmann, the county’s Community Emergency Response Team coordinator.
The team volunteers go through an academy that prepares them to first take care of their own families, then help others in the communities during a disaster, Herrmann said.
When the oil spill occurred on Saturday, the response team volunteers were already prepared to help professional responders.
More than 30 team volunteers have been involved in responding to the spill, Herrmann said.
“We anticipate the Community Emergency Response Team members continuing to these functions for the next 14 days,” he said.
At a glance
18.9 miles: Total nonconsecutive shoreline impacted
175,098: Recovered gallons of oily-water
1,799: Recovered bags of solid-waste bags
18,480: Total gallons of oil evaporated
2,100 gallons: Natural dispersion rate of oil
69,268 feet: Total containment boom deployed
253,300 feet: Total containment boom staged
5,400 feet: Additional containment boom ordered
70: Response vessels assigned
940: Total personnel in the field
324: Total personnel in the Incident Command Post
Source: Unified Command
Claims line for those affected by spill: 855-276-1275
To report wildlife injured by spill: 888-384-2000
For updates on ferry status: 409-795-2230
To schedule a vessel decontamination call 832-244-1870.