US Coast Guard says Texas barge collision may have spilled up to 2,000 gallons of oil

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) — Early estimates indicate that up to 2,000 gallons of oil may have spilled into surrounding waters when a barge carrying fuel broke away from a tugboat and slammed into a bridge near from Galveston, Texas, the U.S. Coast Guard announced Thursday.

The barge crashed in a pillar supporting the span of the Pelican Island Causeway Wednesday. The impact caused the bridge to partially collapse and cut off the only road connecting Galveston to Pelican Island, the Coast Guard said.

Video shows spots of oil spilling from the barge into Galveston Bay. Jeff Davis of the Texas General Land Office said in a news conference Thursday that initial cleanup efforts have not identified any affected wildlife.

The barge has the capacity to hold 30,000 barrels, but it was holding 23,000 – or about 966,000 gallons – when it hit the bridge, Rick Freed, vice president of barge operator Martin Marine, said during of the press conference. Freed said the single tank compromised in the accident held about 160,000 gallons, representing the “total risk.”

“We are confident that there was much less oil introduced into the water than we initially estimated,” Coast Guard Capt. Keith Donohue said.

“We recovered over 605 gallons of oily water mixture from the environment, as well as an additional 5,640 gallons of petroleum products from the top of the barge that did not enter the water,” Donohue said.

The Coast Guard said earlier it deployed a boom, or barrier, to contain the spill, which forced the closure of about 6.5 miles (10.5 kilometers) of the waterway.

A tugboat lost control of the 321-foot barge “due to a broken coupling” that connected the two vessels, the Coast Guard said.

“The weather was not a factor at all during the mating problem,” Freed said. When asked for more details about how the two vessels were disconnected, he said: “It’s currently under investigation and I really can’t release anything further until the investigation is not finished. »

On Thursday, the barge remained next to the bridge, weighed down by debris, including railway tracks, which fell on it after the accident.

The bridge, which provides the only road access between Galveston and Pelican Island, remained closed to incoming traffic, but vehicles leaving Pelican Island and pedestrians in both directions were able to cross it.

Texas A&M University in Galveston, which has a campus on Pelican Island, urged staff and faculty to leave and announced it was closing the campus, although essential staff would remain.

“Given rapidly changing conditions and uncertainty regarding the Pelican Island Bridge failure, Galveston Campus Administration will relocate all Texas A&M Pelican Island residents,” at least until Sunday, she said in a press release Wednesday evening.

Fewer than 200 people connected to the school were on the island when the barge hit the bridge. Spokeswoman Shantelle Patterson-Swanson said the university will provide transportation and cover housing costs for those who choose to leave, but stressed that the school has not issued a mandatory evacuation.

Besides the environmental impact of the oil spill, the region is unlikely to see much economic disruption as a result of the accident, said Maria Burns, a shipping expert at the University of Houston.

The affected area is miles from the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, which sees frequent barge traffic, and the Houston Ship Channel, a major shipping channel for ocean-going vessels.

The accident came weeks after a cargo ship crashed into a support column of the Francis Key Bridge in Baltimore on March 26, killing six construction workers.


Gonzalez reported from McAllen, Texas.


This story corrects the spelling of the name of a University of Houston shipping expert. Her name is Maria Burns, not Marcia.

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