The when and Y

A cleanup crew surveys the area around the oil spill near the Texas City Dike, March 24, 2014. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Stephen Lehmann)

A cleanup crew surveys the area around the oil spill near the Texas City Dike, March 24, 2014. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Stephen Lehmann)

 

A small amount of oil released into the ocean will unfurl, blossom and expand in every direction to form a greasy, rainbow-tinted dream coat on the surface of the water.

 

It’s not unpleasant to look at, but its beauty is fatally deceptive.

 

Depending on the type, it can linger in the environment for years.

 

And it may come as no surprise, but oil is toxic to living organisms, above water and sub-surface, which is certainly problematic for stewards of the marine environment.

 

With nearly 4,000 active oil and gas platforms, and an almost unquantifiable number of vessels transiting in and out of the coastal ports, the Gulf Coast holds its breath whenever an oil spill is reported.

 

As a result, nary a drop of oil enters the water without the Coast Guard knowing about it.

 

The Coast Guardsmen stationed in the Gulf region are cognizant of the ever-present threat of oil fouling its shores and are fully trained and ready for just such a situation.

 

On March 22, 2014, the 585-foot bulk carrier Summer Wind collided with a barge towed by the motor vessel Miss Susan, resulting in approximately 168,000 gallons of bunker fuel oil finding it’s way into the Houston Ship Channel.

 

The Coast Guard swiftly responded.

 

The Texas City ‘Y’ incident response unified command was stood up at Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Texas City, Texas with members of the Coast Guard, Texas Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the Texas General Land Office, Kirby Offshore Marine, Galveston County Office of Emergency Management, Texas City Office of Emergency Management, the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, Wildlife Response Services, as well as local non-profit organizations.

 

“Although the spill itself was a significant and unfortunate event, the response to that spill has been, in my experience, absolutely textbook.  Here on the Galveston Bay, we are deeply fortunate to have Federal, state, local, and private sector entities that have planned together, prepared, and exercised together.  That preparation paid big dividends,” said Capt. Brian Penoyer, commander, Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston.

 

Vessel restrictions were put into place on the waterway, effectively shutting down traffic in the channel, an initial 69,000 feet of boom was deployed to contain the spill, and nearly 25 skimming vessels arrived on scene to conduct skimming operations.

A cleanup worker gathers oil on the shore of the Texas City Dike, March 24, 2014. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Stephen Lehmann)

A cleanup worker gathers oil on the shore of the Texas City Dike, March 24, 2014. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Stephen Lehmann)

Shoreline cleanup crews were deployed to canvas the affected beaches, removing oiled sand with absorbent pom poms, shovels and backhoes.

 

Vessel cleaning stations were set up to clean vessels that came in contact with the oil. To date, nearly 300 vessels have been decontaminated.

 

A wildlife rehabilitation facility was established to assist with wildlife affected by the oil.

 

Due to water currents and the trajectory of the oil in the water, a secondary incident command post was established at Port O’Connor to prepare to protect the environment in the Matagorda area.

 

More than 500 people responded to the incident near Matagorda.

 

To date, response crews have disposed of nearly four million pounds of oiled debris.

 

We took aggressive action early, engaging a great number of spill responders and response assets,  and we did so with unity of effort.  As a result, we were able to protect the public, safeguard sensitive environmental areas, and remove a great deal of oil from the environment.  As the Federal On-Scene Coordinator responsible for assuring this unity of effort occurs, I’m grateful to have had such strong partners with a commitment to work together. The American public deserves nothing less,” said Penoyer.

 

Twenty-three percent of total U.S. crude oil production occurs in the Gulf of Mexico. To add weight to that number, nearly 14,000 oil spills are reported each year in the U.S.  Oil production and shipment is a staple of the economy that isn’t going anywhere in this lifetime. With that much oil being produced, it’s not a matter of if  there will be an oil spill, but when.

 

And the day that when comes, the Coast Guard will be there.

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