As residents across Galveston County awoke Saturday to the distinct smell of gasoline, officials with state and federal agencies were working on a plan to salvage two barges involved in a collision late Friday and to reopen the Houston Ship Channel.
“Surveyors are out there, looking at developing a plan right now,” said Greg Beuerman, an assistant public information officer for Kirby Inland Marine, which owns the barges.
“While we understand that speed counts to an extent — we all want the channel reopened — we have to find a way to lessen and eliminate the risk to the environment. We are taking a measured, cautious approach to this.”
About 3:30 p.m. Friday, a 755-foot tanker ship collided with a tugboat pushing two barges near Baytown, causing one barge to capsize and piercing another, causing it to begin leaking a feedstock blend called Reformate similar to automobile gasoline, Beuerman said.
Each of the barges was fully loaded with about 25,000 barrels of the product, and about 9,000 barrels had leaked into the ship channel by Saturday.
The chemical can be flammable and toxic when inhaled, ingested or in contact with skin, League City officials said.
Officials with the U.S. Coast Guard, Texas General Land Office and Kirby Inland Marine set up a unified command post in the aftermath and 26 mobile units have conducted more than 1,300 air quality readings in different parts of the area, Beuerman said.
“Air monitoring reports for Galveston County show no toxic levels at this time,” said Philip Keiser, the Galveston County local health authority.
Crews deployed about 3,800 feet of absorbent and containment boom, used to clean up spills, around the barges and planned to deploy another 12,150 feet of containment boom through Saturday in environmentally sensitive areas, Beuerman said.
One of the barges, although capsized, is mostly undamaged, and the other is punctured and leaking product, Beuerman said. The goal with the first barge is to flip it back over and make it navigable.
No injuries have been reported, officials with the U.S. Coast Guard said.
Meanwhile, residents as far away as Friendswood awoke to the smell of gas from the collision, city officials said.
While preliminary readings show no actionable levels, people living in Kemah, Clear Lake Shores, Bacliff, League City and San Leon should stay inside if the smell of gasoline concerns them or if they have health conditions, League City officials said.
The land office is also working with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department to determine how the spill is affecting area fishing and marine life, officials with the city of Seabrook said.
Officials also closed the Houston Ship Channel because of the collision, which, as of Saturday afternoon, led to a queue of more than 30 inbound vessels, 17 outbound vessels and 85 vessels at anchorage, officials said. Crews also closed the Clear Creek Channel from the entrance to Clear Lake.