On a foggy afternoon on March 22, the bulk cargo carrier Summer Wind struck a barge in and area where the Houston Ship Channel and Texas City Ship Channel intersect just north of the Texas City Dike resulting in the largest oil spill in Galveston Bay in nearly 20 years.
The spill dumped up to 168,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil into the water, which closed tourist attractions and one of the nation’s busiest ship channels.
The Daily News takes a closer look at the ramifications of the spill.
Q: Is there still oil coming on to Galveston beaches?
A: No more oil is making landfall on Galveston beaches, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Volunteers have only noticed small tar balls typically seen on the beach at this time of the year, said Emily Kelly, volunteer coordinator with the Galveston Bay Foundation.
Q: What parks are still closed?
A: There are no more areas that are off-limits to the public because of the oil spill. The Texas City Dike, East Beach and Seawolf Park had all been closed during part of the cleanup, but all three areas are now open to the public.
Q: Is the cleanup done?
A: The main cleanup effort is wrapping up this week, but the Coast Guard will continue to monitor the area and respond to any reports of oil. To report oil on beaches or oiled wildlife, call 888-384-2000.
Q: How much oil was collected?
A: About 5.5 million pounds of oily debris and sand have been collected from the Galveston Bay and Matagorda Bay areas, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. In the Galveston Bay area alone, 126,080 trash bags of oiled materials were collected and 233,331 gallons of oily water mixture were collected out of the water. The collected oily debris and sand was sent to a waste disposal facility in Alvin.
Q: How many ships did the Coast Guard decontaminate?
A: After the spill, the Coast Guard decontaminated ships affected by the spill to keep the oil from spreading. Crews cleaned 287 vessels, ranging from cruise ships to fishing boats. The Coast Guard finished decontaminating vessels on April 1.
Q: Were dispersants ever used?
A: No. Dispersants, which are a mix of chemicals that can help break down and disperse oil but can be toxic, were never used.
Q: How many people worked in cleaning up and responding to the spill?
A: 1,661 responders were in the field, and 327 worked in a support role in command posts around Galveston Bay and Matagorda Bay at the peak of the spill response.
In Galveston alone, 1,250 workers were in the field and 218 worked in the command post at the peak of the response, according to the Coast Guard.
About 250 people volunteered to help spot oil on the beach, according to the Galveston Bay Foundation.
Volunteers walked more than 100 miles on the beach and logged more than 800 hours.
Saturday was the last day volunteers were out on the beach looking for oil.
Q: How many animals were affected by the spill?
A: Between the Galveston and Matagorda cleanup sites, 480 animals were caught by responders, either because they were oiled or were at risk of being oiled.
Of that number, 465 animals were dead. The remainder are still being rehabilitated or have been released.
The majority of the animals came from the Galveston area. According to authorities, 293 animals were captured in the Galveston area; 284 of them died. The dead animal totals includes 243 birds, 32 dolphins and nine turtles.
Q: Did oil definitely kill all these animals?
A: That’s to be determined. It’s possible that responders looking for oiled animals on beaches located animals that were dead for other reasons. Autopsies are conducted on the bodies that are collected.
Q: What’s happening in Matagorda Bay right now?
A: The unified command center that was established in Port O’Connor was closed on Tuesday, and the last scheduled cleanup was to take place on Thursday. As with other areas, the beaches on Matagorda Island will be patrolled weekly for at least 30 days before being declared clean of oil.
Q: What should I do if I find a tar ball on a Galveston Beach?
A: If you witness any oil spill or chemical release, you can call the Coast Guard’s National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802. The report will be directed to a local command center, who will investigate the report, including tar balls.
Q: How many people have filed claims over damage from the oil spill?
A: That number is still unknown. A spokesman for Kirby Inland Marine declined to provide the number of claims that have been received. Kirby is required by federal law to handle claims for reimbursement for direct costs incurred by agencies and businesses for responding directly to the spill — such as paying a person to help clean up a beach — as well as for more broad economic losses that might be caused by the spill.
Q: Who is investigating the spill?
A: The Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board both have ongoing investigations into the spill. Federal authorities will likely wait until the investigations are complete to bring charges against any of the companies involved in the spill.
Other agencies, such as the Texas General Land Office, could also issue their own fines.
Q: What are elected state officials doing about this?
A: Right now, not much. There are no scheduled hearings in Austin related to the oil spill, although a legislative committee could call for one in the future.
Q: Do we know how much the cleanup cost?
A: As the responsible party, Kirby Inland Marine has picked up the tab for the cleanup, but a Coast Guard official said no accurate total was available from the company this week. The spokesperson said the cleanup costs ran into the millions of dollars.
The city of Galveston spent almost $7,900 responding to the spill, which will be reimbursed to the city. Texas City has spent less than $70,000 on the response with about $50,000 coming from the use of the city’s police officers. Galveston County spent about $107,000 during the cleanup effort.
All of the local entities said they would be reimbursed by the responsible party.
Q: What does it mean to be the “responsible party”?
A: According to the Coast Guard, the responsible party is the “person, business or entity that has been identified as owning the vessel or facility that caused the spill.”
In this case, Kirby Inland Marine is the responsible party because the company owned the tugboat that was towing the barge that spilled the oil.
The term “responsible party” does not determine who was at fault in the collision. That is still to be determined by an investigation into the accident.
But as the responsible party, Kirby Inland Marine has paid for the cleanup effort.
By the numbers
168,000 – Approximate number of gallons of heavy fuel oil spilled from a barge into Galveston Bay.
90 – Miles of shoreline affected by the oil spill between Texas City and North Padre Island.
480 – Animals recovered by oil spill responders.
465 – Number of the recovered animals that were dead on arrival.
5.5 million – Approximate pounds of oily debris and sand collected and sent to a waste disposal facility in Alvin.
1,661 – Responders in the field in and around Galveston Bay and Matagorda Bay at the peak of the spill response.
327 – People working in a support capacity in command posts at the peak of the response.
SOURCE: U.S. Coast Guard
Timeline of events
March 22 – 12:30 p.m.: The 585-foot bulk cargo carrier Summer Wind and Kirby Inland Marine Barge 27706 collide near the intersection of the Texas City and Houston ship channels.
Afternoon to evening: Parts of the Houston, Texas City and Galveston ship channels are closed; Texas City closes the dike and other nearby areas; the Galveston-Bolivar ferry is closed.
March 23 – Reports of oil coming ashore on Galveston’s East End and Texas City’s Dike Beach; cleanup begins; reports of first dead birds; cruise ships are allowed to make port.
March 24 – Limited ferry service resumes; cleanup continues.
March 25 – Shipping lanes begin to open in the channels.
March 27 – Tar balls wash ashore on Matagorda Island, about 120 miles away from the site of the original spill.
April 4 – Two rehabilitated birds are released at the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, the first spill-related animals to be released back into the wild.
April 18 – Seawolf Park in Galveston, closed since the spill, reopens to the public
April 24 – Kirby Inland Marine sues Sea Galaxy Marine, alleging that the Sea Galaxy’s ship, the Summer Wind, was speeding in the ship channel and ultimately caused the spill. Kirby seeks $10 million.