GALVESTON (March 25, 2014) The U.S. Coast Guard reopened the Houston Ship Channel to some traffic Tuesday after thousands of gallons of oil spilled from a barge this weekend.
The key waterway on the Gulf of Mexico has been cleared enough to allow barges in and out, although the cleanup continues, the Coast Guard said.
Nearly 170,000 gallons of tar-like oil spilled Saturday after a barge carrying about 900,000 gallons of oil collided with a ship.
State officials believe most of the oil is moving away from the coast near Houston and into the Gulf of Mexico and they hope the slick will wash up as "tar balls" farther south.
Environmental groups say the spill occurred at a sensitive time.
The channel has important shorebird habitat on both sides and tens of thousands of wintering birds are in the area.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office sent Environmental Protection Division investigators and staff to the spill site Monday.
“The damage inflicted by this spill is a blow to small businesses, fishing, recreation, and the overall economy, but its ripple effects will be felt much wider,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said Monday.
“While emergency workers race to get the spill contained and cleaned, the attorney general’s office will assist with the coordinated state response and has opened a civil investigation into this disaster.
The spill caused a backup as about 100 vessels were either waiting to enter or to leave.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Andy Kendrick said that 54 ships waited to enter the channel and 48 were ready to leave Tuesday.
Five additional ships waited to enter the nearby Port of Galveston.
Kendrick says 10 birds have died as a result of the oil spill.
Four animal rehabilitation facilities are set up in the area.
Ferry service between Galveston and Bolivar was suspended, but resumed Tuesday morning.