Cleaning up

Chad Smith with Garner Environmental Services moves an oil absorbent skirt back into the surf Monday on East Beach in Galveston.


GALVESTON — The thick, tarry oil that is drifting in Galveston Bay and washing up on local shorelines is both a popular fuel source and the byproduct of the oil refinery process.

The technical name for the substance is IFO-380, but it is commonly known as heavy fuel oil. On Tuesday, a General Land Office official said heavy fuel oil is what’s left in oil after other products — such as gasoline, diesel and kerosene — had been stripped away.

“It’s commonly referred to as bottom of the barrel stuff,” said Greg Pollack, deputy commissioner for the land office’s Oil Spill Prevention and Response division.

The oil is mainly used as a fuel for marine vessels, Pollack said.

One of the major properties that separate heavy fuel  oil from crude oil, like the kind that spilled during the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, is its inability to evaporate. Because of that, heavy fuel oil can be carried long distances by wind and currents.

Heavy fuel oil floats near the surface of the water, which means it can be picked up relatively easily by ships equipped with skimming equipment. The oil can sink as it approaches shore, however, as it picks up sediment.

“It’s a pretty difficult product to deal with,” Pollack said.

Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or


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