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Houston Channel Closed as 24 Vessels Skim 4,000-Barrel Oil Spill

Houston Ship Channel Spill
A barge loaded with marine fuel sits partially submerged in the Houston Ship Channel, March 22, 2014. Photographer: PO3 Manda Emery/U.S. Coast Guard via AP Photo

The Houston Ship Channel remains closed as about 24 vessels worked to clean up a 4,000-barrel fuel oil spill following a collision during the weekend.

A barge containing about 22,000 barrels (924,000 gallons) of ship fuel partially sank near Texas City, Texas, Cam Olivieri, a spokesman for the Galveston County Emergency Management agency, said in a telephone interview yesterday. The barge, which was being towed by the vessel Miss Susan to Bolivar, was struck by the 585-foot bulk carrier Summer Wind on March 22, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The 52-mile (84-kilometer) shipping lane is a key transit route for processed fuels and chemical feedstock from refineries along the Gulf Coast. A U.S. shale oil and natural gas boom has contributed to the channel’s traffic. Fuel still inside the barge’s damaged tank has been transferred and the vessel will be moved to a local shipyard, the Coast Guard said.

The spill could pose a risk to migratory birds who have their habitat on both shores of the channel, the Associated Press reported, citing Richard Gibbons, the conservation director of the Houston Audubon Society.

Fewer than 10 oiled birds were sighted and recovered for transfer to a wildlife rehabilitation facility, according to a Coast Guard statement.

Summer Wind collided with the barge at 12:35 p.m. local time on March 22, according to Coast Guard statements on its website. The most severely damaged part of the barge contained a tank with a capacity for 4,000 barrels, or 168,000 gallons, of fuel, Lieutenant Sam Danus, a Coast Guard spokesman, said by phone from the incident command post at Texas City yesterday. The vessel was identified as Kirby Barge 27706, according to the Port of Houston Authority.

Vessels cleaned ship fuel from the water, aided by containment booms stretching for more than 69,000 feet and placed to stop slicks from spreading, the Coast Guard said. Officials have as much as 141,000 additional feet of booms available for possible deployment.

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