Firehouse Ready. The GLO Answers the Call
In 1989, the T/V Exxon Valdez Alaskan Oil Spill spewed 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. At the time, it was the worst oil spill in United States history. A year later, in 1990, two other significant spills (T/V Mega Borg and T/B Apex) occurred in Texas waters. Soon, Congress acted, passing the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which was signed into law by President H.W. Bush later that year. Texas quickly follow suit, passing the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act of 1991, designating the Texas General Land Office as the lead state agency for protecting our coastal waters and adjacent shorelines.
As millions of barrels of oil pass through ports, bays and beaches along the Texas Gulf coast, the Texas General Land Office (GLO) Oil Spill Prevention and Response team stands ready, on call 24/7, ensuring oil stays out of Texas coastal waters. When disaster strikes, our team is on the ground and ready to help.
Recently, disaster struck once again, this time in the Houston Ship Channel. On May 10, 2019, the GLO received notification of a ship and barge collision. A 755-foot tanker, named Genesis River, was carrying 25,000bbls of reformate, a gasoline blend stock, when she collided with a tug boat pushing two barges.
That’s where the GLO steps in. The GLO’s Oil Spill Prevention and Response team took immediate action, deploying personnel to the initial incident command post and later joining an Unified Command comprised of the United States Coast Guard, Texas General Land Office and Kirby Inland Marine (the owner of the barge) to respond to the collision.
Once the Unified Command was established, the GLO team sprang into action, activating the local area contingency plan, identifying sensitive areas for protection and assisting in securing barges for offloading and salvage.
Following the completion of the GLO’s role in the cleanup of the Houston Ship Channel, we asked one of our Oil Spill Prevention and Response Regional Directors, Craig Kartye about how the team was able to lend a hand in the face of disaster:
What exactly is it that the GLO Oil Spill Team does during incidents?
“The GLO is the lead state agency for oil spills that impact, or threaten to impact, Texas Coastal waters. During a spill event we work cooperatively with the USCG and responsible party (Unified Command) to develop a common set of response goals and objectives, ultimately ensuring the spill is cleaned up as safely, efficiently, and effectively as possible.”
For example, the GLO Oil Spill team might work to ensure the health and safety of responders and the public, secure the source of the spill, and minimize the impact to the environment and private property.
Let’s use the Houston Ship Channel incident as an example. What did the GLO Oil Spill team do to offer assistance?
While the GLO Oil Spill team offers the assistance of our trained personnel, we do not work alone! After integrating as a Unified Command, “GLO team members provide expert guidance on specific oil spill response techniques, as well as extensive knowledge of the local environment, it’s susceptibility to oil, and effective protection strategies to minimize adverse effects. Team members may also fulfill scientific support and liaison support functions during the response. The TGLO scientific support coordinator ensures cleanup tactics follow best management practices and are consistent with established scientific knowledge. Our liaison ensures stakeholders (counties, local governments, neighboring facilities, etc.) are kept informed of the response and that their concerns regarding the spill are addressed. Finally, team members are out in the field continually monitoring the response, conducting shoreline cleanup assessment teams, making cleanup recommendations, and ensuring the Incident Action Plan approved by the Unified Command is being implemented.”
Specifically, how does the GLOs’ assistance impact the response/recovery phase and why was the Houston Ship Channel Collision such a significant threat to our state’s environment?
“Although each oil spill is unique and presents different challenges, our initial goal is to ensure the health and safety of the public is protected. In many cases this simply means working with the USCG to establish “safety zones” around the area of impact to protect both the public and responders. In many cases, restricting access to impacted areas keeps people from coming in contact with the spilled material. In the case of the recent Bayport Channel Collision event, a somewhat unique hazard, due to the magnitude and location of the spilled material had to be addressed. Specifically, Reformate, the product spilled has a high vapor pressure and readily evaporates. For this reason, and the fact that the spill occurred in the Houston Ship Channel, just a short distance from a densely populated area (Kemah, Seabrook, Clear Lake, League City, LaPorte) air monitoring became a necessary and immediate priority.
During the height of the response over 25 air monitoring teams roamed throughout the surrounding community looking for possible dangerous concentrations of hazardous vapors. We also coordinated with the Department of State Health Services to ensure the public was made aware of potential safety concerns associated with fish/shellfish consumption. Even today, we continue working with TX DSHS, providing them with water sampling data. We also wanted to ensure that impacts to the environment, wildlife, and surrounding shorelines were minimized. In this particular incident, although the high evaporation rate posed potential significant hazards to the responders and surrounding community, it did result in a rapid reduction in the volume of oil on the surface of the water. This reduction, due to evaporation, helped reduce the amount of shoreline and wildlife impacted, where historically the majority of environmental impacts occur. Finally, the TGLO works with federal, state, and local partners every day to identify environmentally sensitive areas and prioritize those areas.”
It’s up to us, the people of Texas, to make sure that our environment is properly protected and that we take action when needed. While incidents like the recent spill in the Houston Ship Channel occur, the GLO’s firehouse ready prevention and response team stands ready to answer the charge- because even the smallest spill can endanger Texas’ precious natural resources.