Oil and Water – How the Galveston Oil Spill Proved The Two Don’t Mix

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Joint response underway for ship, barge collision in Houston Ship ChannelThe Galveston Bay oil spill occurred, coincidentally, on the 25th anniversary of Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The Exxon Valdez oil spill is now considered to be one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. Will the same be said about the Galveston Bay spill? It is this question, along with several others, that both environmental and economic experts are now struggling to answer. Here are some of the most common questions that experts have been discussing over the last two weeks.

What are the lasting environmental/ecological effects?

When vacationers were allowed to return to Galveston beach to enjoy the water a week after the accident, there were still visible leftovers of the spill. Rocks were black, birds were covered in oil and stranded boats were left ashore. According to Douglas Rader from the Environmental Defense Fund, though visible effects of the spill can still be seen, it is hard to determine if the “heavy marine fuel, containing toxic chemicals including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), is harming shrimp, crabs, oysters, red drum and other fish that call the waters of Galveston Bay home.” The biggest environmental concern that exists is the future health and sustainability of marine life, particularly species that are pertinent to the seafood industry. With more than 5 million pounds of fish harvested from Galveston Bay in 2012, it is going to be extremely important to monitor the aftermath of the spill and document the effects.

What are the economic effects?

Within days of the spill, millions of dollars were lost. On the surface, the tourist attractions that help generate considerable revenue for the city of Galveston were immediately impacted. Cruise ships were unable to depart from key ports, leaving companies to refund the cost of the trip to the travelers.  Additionally, Galveston Bay’s multi-billion dollar recreational and commercial fishing industry has been forced to a grinding halt during peak tourist season and lawsuits by fishing businesses have already been filed.  The question is no longer what, but how – how significant are the economic effects and how long will it take Galveston Bay to recover? While some areas have been able to reopen for business, much of the bay remains closed for cleanup. Organizations like NRG Energy have donated $50,000 to the Galveston Bay Foundation to aid in oil spill recovery efforts. However, despite  receiving outside aid and donations, the total financial impact of the spill is still yet to be determined.

Will new regulations result from the Galveston Bay oil spill?

Traffic in the Houston Ship Channel, where the oil spill took place, has been compared to air traffic, with several jetliners approaching an airport. However,  unlike their sky counterparts, ships and boats are responsible for their own routes and paths, only communicating with other nearby ships. If it’s a requirement for planes to be directed as to where and when to land by air traffic controllers, why shouldn’t that requirement also apply to the shipping industry? It’s a question that has been raised by those advocating for a control system to help mitigate accidents like the Galveston oil spill. Still, one of the biggest issues that remains is the rise of oil production that has overwhelmed the nation’s pipeline infrastructure. According to the US Energy Information Administration, tankers and barges have doubled the amount of oil moved in five years, resulting in the movement of approximately 70 million barrels of crude oil and petroleum products from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast. As production increases, so does tanker traffic, further fueling the debate on current infrastructures and the need to transition to cleaner, safer, renewable energy sources.

Topics:  Fishing Industry, Oil & Gas, Oil Spills, Shipping

Published In: Energy & Utilities Updates, Environmental Updates, Maritime Updates, Toxic Torts Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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