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Massive Oil Spill Rocks Galveston Bay, Devastating Effects Could be Felt for Decades

by: Katie Singh

Tue Mar 25, 2014 at 09:00 AM CDT

Over the weekend, a barge carrying nearly a million gallons of marine oil collided with another ship near Texas City, spilling up to 168,000 gallons of oil into Galveston Bay.

The spill came just 2 days before the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska, whose harmful effects are still being observed today. Some experts have already voiced concern that this oil spill could have a similarly long-lasting effect. The Texas City Barge was carrying a type of oil known as RMG 380, "a special bunker fuel oil often used in shipping that doesn't evaporate easily."

Texas General Land Office Spokesman Jim Suydam called that type of oil, "sticky, gooey, thick, tarry stuff." Said Suydam, "That stuff is terrible to have to clean up."

The environmental effects of the spill are already being felt, and the Texas coast will likely continue to feel the impact for years to come.

Read about the environmental impact of the oil spill after the jump.

Since the oil spill, the Houston Audubon Society has already found more than 50 oiled birds in a part of the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. The wildlife sanctuary is only two miles from the spill, and experts only expect the effects of the oil spill to get worse.

The spill comes in the middle of the spring bird migration season. Over 100 species of birds travel through the Bolivar Flats Sanctuary each year, including some endangered species. These birds breed and forage for food in the area affected by the spill.

Dr. Richard Gibbons, Conservation Director for the Houston Audubon Society and leader of the Texas Shorebird Survey told the Houston Chronicle, "It's definitely devastating to see the birds you work so hard to protect day to day suffer. Once the oil gets on them, they go into clean up mode which means not only are they expending precious energy stores on that process, but they are also ingesting it which often means death. We're very concerned about the impacts that this spill will have on water, air, and wildlife. We have five sanctuaries in the area, and this could not have come at a worse time with spring migration in effect."

What's worse, the type of oil involved in the spill means that the environmental effects will last for years. As the Texas Tribune reported, because the oil is heavy, "instead of evaporating from the surface of the water like gasoline would, much of it will sink, persisting in the environment for months or even years. While this heavier oil is not acutely toxic, it can smother wildlife, to devastating effect."

Galveston Bay is also an ecologically sensitive area, and the spill occurred in open water where oil can easily spread.

In addition, the spill is having an economic impact. It has shut down the Houston Shipping Channel, an important global waterway, and will likely affect tourism in the Galveston area.

Cleanup of the spill is underway. It remains to be seen how broad the effects of the oil spill will be, but it is likely they they will be felt for many years to come.

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Do not republish without express written permission.

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