GALVESTON (March 28, 2014) The remaining restrictions on traffic though the Houston Ship Channel have been lifted, five days after an oil spill shut down one of the nation's busiest seaports, but the investigation of the spill is just getting underway.
The U.S. Coast Guard announced the reopening late Thursday of the channel that links the area's busy ports with the largest petrochemical complex in the country.
The channel was closed Saturday, after nearly 170,000 gallons of tar-like oil spilled into the waterway south of Houston when a ship punctured an oil barge.
At its height, the closure stranded some 100 vessels.
Officials erected inflatable booms but oil drifted into the Gulf of Mexico.
On Thursday, officials said oil had washed onto 12 miles of beach at Matagorda Island, 100 miles southwest of Galveston, but it hadn't reached an environmentally delicate bay nearby.
The Houston-based operator of the barge will be fined by Texas regulators, regardless of the outcome of state or federal investigations, but investigators are still trying to pinpoint the cause of last weekend's accident in the Houston Ship Channel.
The Texas General Land Office says Kirby Inland Marine Corp., which owns the barge, will be penalized because state law considers the company carrying the oil a responsible party.
State records show that the company has been fined more than $51,000 for at least 77 spills since 2008, most of which were minor incidents.