by Mike Holmes
On March 22nd a ship collided with a barge carrying fuel oil in the Houston Ship Channel near the end of the Texas City Dike—a man-made “super-jetty” extending far into Galveston Bay built as a storm protection measure for a bay shoreline that is both residential and industrialized. Some 168,000 gallons of oil—which is “lighter” than crude oil but heavier than diesel fuel—were estimated to have leaked from the damaged barge. Efforts to contain and clean up the spill began promptly but faced challenges from the weather and the location of the accident.
Winds from the north first hampered crews trying to use surface booms to keep the oil from spreading, pushing a large portion towards Galveston, where it crossed the ICW and traveled through the Galveston Jetties into the open Gulf of Mexico. Some of the oil spread into the ICW to invade Galveston’s waters, and some even reached shore. Once in the Gulf the oil was pushed offshore, then floated onto the beach on the east end of the island by a sudden southeastern wind, while much more headed south toward the shoreline around Matagorda Island.
Boating in the spill area of Galveston Bay was restricted to keep wakes from further spreading the oil, and warnings were issued about eating seafood from the area. Shrimping was somewhat curtailed, and both recreational and commercial fishing were affected, as well as oystering efforts. Charter boats and guides fishing the area lost business, as did bait camps and seafood processors. Since this happened in the middle of spring break for many local schools, the tourism industry suffered a decline in business.