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Published On: Mon, Mar 24th, 2014

Texas waterway still closed as oil spill cleanup ongoing

Shipping channels are blocked Monday morning as no timetable has been set to reopen after 170,000 gallons of oil spilled into a Texas waterway.

The barge carrying about 900,000 gallons of the heavy oil collided with a ship Saturday in the busy Houston Ship Channel, spilling as much as a fifth of its cargo into one of the world’s busiest waterways for moving petrochemicals, according to the Coast Guard.

 Oil from the ruptured barge had been detected 12 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico as of Sunday afternoon.

Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Sam Danus said Sunday that crews were skimming up the thick, gooey oil, but that it was not clear when the channel could reopen. More than six miles of containment booms were being used to protect sensitive wetlands and wildlife habitats.

Two cruise ships and 25 other vessels were waiting to enter the channel from the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday. One cruise ship and 34 other boats were waiting to leave Galveston Bay.

Environmental groups said the spill occurred at an especially sensitive time. The channel in Texas City, about 45 miles southeast of Houston, has important shorebird habitat on both sides, and tens of thousands of wintering birds are still in the area.

“The timing really couldn’t be much worse since we’re approaching the peak shorebird migration season,” said Richard Gibbons, conservation director of the Houston Audubon Society.

He noted that just to the east is the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary, which attracts 50,000 to 70,000 shorebirds to shallow mud flats that are perfect foraging habitat.

Fewer than 10 oiled birds had been found and recovered for transfer to a wildlife rehabilitation center as of Sunday afternoon, according to the Coast Guard.

The Texas General Land Office has also deployed a bird rehabilitation trailer in the area for quick response.

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About the Author

- Catherine "Kaye" Wonderhouse, a proud descendant of the Wunderhaus family is the Colorado Correspondent who will add more coverage, interviews and reports from this midwest area.

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