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Houston Ship Channel closes after fuel oil spill

03.24.2014  | 

The shutdown of the Houston Ship Channel following a fuel oil spill over the weekend will have an impact similar to that of a fog-related event, according to Valero, the world’s biggest independent refiner.



The Houston Ship Channel is closed for a third day and about 80 vessels are backed up as crews work to contain and clean up a 4,000-bbl fuel oil spill after a collision March 22.

Workers have refloated a barge whose six tanks were carrying 22,000 bbl (924,000 gal) of ship fuel when the collision occurred near Texas City, Texas, said Lieutenant Junior Grade Kristopher Kidd, a spokesman for the US Coast Guard.

The barge, which was being towed by the vessel Miss Susan, was struck by the 585-foot bulk carrier Summer Wind, causing one of the barge’s tanks to leak its load of fuel oil, the Coast Guard said. The fuel from the remaining five tanks has been transferred and the vessel will be moved to a local shipyard, the Coast Guard said.

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 US shale oil and natural gas boom has contributed to the channel’s traffic.

The spill may 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

Summer Wind collided with the barge at 12:35 p.m. local time on Saturday, 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 bbl, or 168,000 gal, of fuel, said Lieutenant Sam Danus, a Coast Guard spokesman. The vessel was identified as Kirby Barge 27706, according to the Port of Houston Authority.

There were more than 30 recovery craft on site, up from 24 at the start of yesterday, Kidd said. Some worked through the night, aided by containment booms stretching for more than 69,000 feet, the Coast Guard said.

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