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Galveston Bay Oil Spill: Wildlife Damage Expected to Get ‘Much Worse’

Published: Mar 25, 2014, 7:44 AM EDT weather.com

The nearly 170,000 gallons of oil that has spilled into Texas’ Galveston Bay has put one of the nation’s most crucial bird habitats at risk, experts say.

Biologists said they have found dozens of oiled birds on parts of the Bolivar Peninsula.

“We expect this to get much worse,” Jessica Jubin, a spokeswoman for the Houston Audubon Society, which manages the Bolivar Flats preserve where the birds were found, told the Houston Chronicle.

Environmental groups said the spill occurred at an especially sensitive time and place. The channel in Texas City, about 45 miles southeast of Houston, has shorebird habitat on both sides, and tens of thousands of wintering birds are still in the area.

At least 50 birds of six species have needed treatment due to the oil, said Richard Gibbons, conservation director of the Houston Audubon Society.

Crews have being working around the clock to contain the spill, but traces of oil have still been detected as far out as 12 miles in the Gulf of Mexico.

Crews lined the sand on Galveston Bay Monday, capturing tar balls as strong tides kept pushing more onto the beach, The Associated Press reported.

The best-case scenario is for most of the slick to remain in the Gulf for at least several days and congeal into small tar balls that wash up further south on the Texas coast, where they could be picked up and removed, said Jerry Patterson, commissioner of the Texas General Land Office, the lead state agency on the response to the spill.

However, officials said Monday night that changing currents, winds and weather were pushing the oil not only further into the Gulf, but also southwest along Galveston Island, resulting in expanded oil recovery efforts.

The Coast Guard said it hoped to have the channel open to barge traffic as quickly as possible but that more tests were needed to confirm the water and the vessels traveling through the channel were free of oil.

The closure stranded some 80 vessels on both sides of the channel. Traffic through the channel includes ships serving refineries key to American oil production.

Refineries in Texas City appeared to have enough crude oil on hand to continue operating until the ship channel can re-open, Patterson said.

Parts of Galveston Island were closed to the public as the cleanup entered its fourth day.

 

Seawolf Park in Galveston, a popular spot for fishermen and tourists, was closed after small amounts of oil were spotted in the water, manager John McMichael said.

“Anytime you shut down the park, it’s going to have an economic impact,” McMichael said. “How much, we don’t know because we don’t know how long the park will be closed.”

Jim Guidry, executive vice president of Houston-based Kirby Inland Marine Corp., which owned the barge, has said the company — the nation’s largest operator of inland barges — would pay for any cleanup costs.

“We’re very concerned. We’re focused on cleaning up,” he said.

 

The spill also suspended state-operated ferry service between Galveston and Port Bolivar, affecting thousands of travelers.

Two cruise ships were allowed to travel through the spill area “to minimize inconvenience” to thousands of passengers and limit the spill’s economic effects, the Coast Guard said.

The channel, part of the Port of Houston, typically handles as many as 80 vessels daily.