Oil Spill Disrupts A Waterway Thick With Barges And Birds

Thousands of gallons of fuel oil spilled from a barge in Galveston Bay, Texas, over the weekend. The spill disrupted shipping and threatens wildlife in the area, and the containment effort has begun.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

I'm Robert Siegel.

In this part of the program, the latest on a large oil spill over the weekend in Texas. Also, the legacy of one of the nation's biggest spills, the Exxon Valdez, 25 years later. First, the current mess that has shut down the Houston Ship Channel. A 585-foot-long cargo ship named Summer Wind collided with an oil barge, sending thousands of barrels of heavy bunker fuel into the water. The spill is slowing shipping and it poses a major risk to a bird habitat during a particularly busy time of year. NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Unfortunately, the 168,000 gallons of spilled oil is thick, gooey and sticky and will readily attach to almost anything it comes in contact with, including ship's hulls and bird feathers. Sixty-nine thousand feet of containment boom have been deployed and a fleet of 27 vessels are out there skimming the saltwater. With every passing hour, more ships are trapped inside and outside one of the world's busiest waterways for petrochemical traffic. Coast Guard Lieutenant Sam Danus is at the incident command post.

LIEUTENANT SAM DANUS: As far as weather, it has not been optimal. You know, initially there was fog and then we did have precipitation, windier than usual for this time of year. However, for today we're able to get an overflight, so we're getting some great aerial assessment of the area.

GOODWYN: The Coast Guard caught a break when a weather front moved through from the North and high winds pushed the oil out into the Gulf of Mexico. But now the worry is the wind will turn and blow it all back onshore. This area of the Texas coast is a major flyover for millions of migratory birds returning from Mexico and South America. Bob Stokes is the president of the Galveston Bay Foundation.

BOB STOKES: We have a whole diverse group of shore birds and water birds, ranging from gulls to terns, sandpipers, pelicans, herons, egrets, a lot of year-round residents but the numbers go way, way up this time of year.

GOODWYN: Only a handful of birds have been found dead in the oil so far, but that number is expected to rise. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News.

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