Coast Guard Partially Opens Houston Ship Channel After Collision

May 13, 2019

The U.S. Coast Guard partially opened the Houston Ship Channel near Bayport, Texas, on Saturday after a collision spilled an estimated 9,000 barrels of a gasoline ingredient into the water.

The waterway was opened to one-way tow traffic between Light 66-76, according to an update from the Bayport Channel Collision Response. The ship channel remained closed for all other traffic from Light 61-75 and a safety zone remained in place. As of 3 p.m. local time, there was a queue of 33 vessels inbound and 27 outbound, with 91 at anchorage.

Friday’s collision involved the tanker Genesis River and a tug transporting two barges carrying more than 2 million gallons of reformate, an oil-refining byproduct used to make gasoline. One barge capsized and the other was damaged following the incident that happened 2 1/2 miles east and south of the Bayport terminal.

“Our objective today is to secure the vessels,” U.S. Coast Guard Captain Kevin Oditt told reporters earlier in the day. “Once we have those vessels secured, we will work with the pilots and we will evaluate whether we can reopen the ship channel.”

The Houston Ship Channel is the city’s lifeline to the Gulf of Mexico and to foreign markets. Oil shippers, refiners, chemical manufacturers and grain exporters rely on the waterway to receive and deliver everything from crude to corn.

The safety zone closed Clear Creek Channel from the entrance to Clear Lake and extended east to Light 66 and north up to but not including the Bayport Ship Channel.

The spill was earlier pinpointed by the National Weather Service as a possible source of a gasoline-like scent wafting across Houston’s eastern suburbs. Teams of air monitors were working around the clock to assess levels.

“To date, those teams have taken over 1,300 samples and, in all cases, the samples taken have not exceeded the established action levels,” said Craig Kartye, of the oil spill prevention and response program at the Texas General Land Office.

About 3,600 feet of boom has been put in place and efforts are underway to deploy an additional 12,000 feet in the most pressing areas, Jim Guidry, executive vice president of vessel operations for Kirby Inland Marine, operator of the tug involved, said earlier in the day.

While one of the barges has lost about 9,000 barrels of reformate, the capsized vessel hasn’t leaked any cargo, he said.

“We are continuing to work with the Coast Guard and the other federal regulators to understand the cause of the incident and will be working to recover any of the spilled product and mitigate the impact on the environment,” Guidry said.

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