NPR Story
1:46 pm
Mon March 24, 2014

Houston Ship Channel Expected To Reopen

The Coast Guard could soon reopen the Houston Ship Channel that was the scene of an oil spill over the weekend.

The channel is one of the nation’s busiest seaports. Coast Guard Warrant Officer Kimberly Smith says the goal is to reopen part of it sometime Monday. The closure has forced more than 80 ships to wait to enter or leave the bay.

Smith says officials are still trying to determine how much oil spilled Saturday, when a barge carrying about 900,000 gallons collided with a ship. Authorities initially said as much as a fifth of the barge’s cargo spilled.

The spill also suspended state-operated ferry service between Galveston and Port Bolivar, affecting thousands of travelers.

Guest

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Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW.

Lots going on across the country today. We want to check in in Texas where the Coast Guard is hoping to reopen part of the shipping channel that connects Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico sometime today. The Houston Ship Channel was closed Saturday after that collision between a cargo ship and a barge carrying nearly a million gallons of oil, heavy fuel washing on shore into the Gulf of Mexico. Dave Fehling is energy and environment reporter with HERE AND NOW contributing station KUHF in Houston. Dave, we know cleanup crews working hard. What's the latest?

DAVE FEHLING, BYLINE: Well, the good news is they were able to secure the barge. They've got it back in the harbor, so it's not going to leak anymore. But now, of course, the cleanup of this 170,000 gallons of this heavy, bottom-of-the-barrel fuel oil that was in the barge - they used the barges to transport the oil around in areas like this where you have to put it into the ships, because that's what powers the ships.

Right now they've got 69,000 feet of containment boom along the shores already deployed. They have almost 200,000 more feet waiting, staged(ph) in case they need it. And it's a big question now, of course, as to where exactly the oil will continue to go because the plume is still out there in the Gulf.

YOUNG: Hmm. What's been the impact on shipping?

FEHLING: Shutdown in the Houston Ship Channel, which is one of the biggest ports in the United States. We're the petrochemical refinery capital of the Gulf Coast here. A lot of chemicals, a lot of gasoline, oil, plus everything else you would assume that go on ships - new cars, coffee, you name it. Forty ships waiting to go out, forty ships waiting to come in, and they're all just sitting there right now. They're hoping to get it partially opened, the ship channel, sometime later today.

They've already let a couple of the cruise ships that have been sitting out in the bay, waiting to come in, full of passengers. So they did allow those in late yesterday. But otherwise right now they're hoping to get some ships to go in and out of the ship channel sometime later.

YOUNG: So ferry service there is shutdown too. How are people there - briefly, how are they taking this in?

FEHLING: It's something that's not uncommon because this has happened - it actually used to happen a lot more often than it does now where you have various reasons for oil leaks, fuel leaks out in the Gulf, from collisions and other accidents. The big concern is the - besides the shipping industry is the seafood industry, both recreationally as well the commercial seafood industry here on the Gulf Coast.

YOUNG: Well, I hope it's not hit too hard. Dave Fehling of KUHF there in Houston, Texas, thank you so much.

FEHLING: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.