Houston Ship Channel still not safe for passage to GOM after oil spill

By Stephen Cunningham on 5/12/2019
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Port of Houston. Photo: KWTX.

WASHINGTON (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Coast Guard said on Saturday it’s too early to estimate when the Houston Ship Channel can reopen after a collision that spilled about 9,000 bbl of a gasoline ingredient into the water.

Friday’s collision involved the tanker Genesis River and a tug transporting two barges carrying more than 2 million gallons of reformate, an oil-refining byproduct used to make gasoline. One barge capsized and the other was damaged following the incident that occurred 2 1/2 mi east and south of the Bayport terminal.

“Our objective today is to secure the vessels,” U.S. Coast Guard Captain Kevin Oditt told reporters. “Once we have those vessels secured, we will work with the pilots and we will evaluate whether we can reopen the ship channel.”

The Houston Ship Channel is the city’s lifeline to the Gulf of Mexico and to foreign markets. Oil shippers, refiners, chemical manufacturers and grain exporters rely on the waterway to receive and deliver everything from crude to corn.

The Coast Guard established an emergency temporary safety zone and closure of the Clear Creek Channel from the entrance to Clear Lake extending east to Light 66 and north up to but not including the Bayport Ship Channel, it said in a statement. The area between Light 61 and Light 75 was also shut.

The spill was pinpointed by the National Weather Service as a possible source of the gasoline-like scent wafting across Houston’s eastern suburbs. Teams of air monitors were working around the clock to assess levels.

“To date, those teams have taken over 1,300 samples and, in all cases, the samples taken have not exceeded the established action levels,” said Craig Kartye of the oil spill prevention and response program at the Texas General Land Office.

About 3,600 ft of boom has been put in place and efforts are underway to deploy an additional 12,000 ft in the most pressing areas, said Jim Guidry, executive vice president of vessel operations for Kirby Inland Marine, operator of the tug involved.

While one of the barges has lost about 9,000 bbl of reformate, the capsized vessel hasn’t leaked any cargo at this time, he said.

“We are continuing to work with the Coast Guard and the other federal regulators to understand the cause of the incident and will be working to recover any of the spilled product and mitigate the impact on the environment,” Guidry said.

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