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Oil Spill Update

Deeper and deeper: Effects of Galveston Bay oil spill linger as clean-up continues

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11 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Bird bathing itself on top of bollard at Galveston Ferry
A bird tries to bathe itself on top of a bollard at the Galveston Ferry. Photo by Katie Oxford
4 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 At the end of a nameless road on the East Bay side, Bolivar peninsula or could it be a satellite view of planet earth?
Seen at the end of a nameless road on the East Bay side, Bolivar peninsula - or could it be a satellite view of planet earth? Photo by Katie Oxford
5 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Ditch along nameless road - Bay side - Bolivar peninsula
Take a closer look at this ditch along nameless road located bay side on Bolivar peninsula. Photo by Katie Oxford
6 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Looking at Intracoastal Waterway and barges but not visible in fog - still this thick at 2p.m
A sign stands out in a view looking at the Intracoastal Waterway and barges, which are not visible in thick fog at 2 p.m. this day. Photo by Katie Oxford
10 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Brown Pelicans - Bolivar Flats
Brown pelicans contine to soar at Bolivar Flats. Photo by Katie Oxford
9 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Pelican Island
A scene along Pelican Island. Photo by Katie Oxford
8 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Anchored in Galveston Bay - Shot from Bolivar Ferry
Anchored in Galveston Bay, a photo shot from a Bolivar ferry. Photo by Katie Oxford
3 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Worth protecting
Worth protecting. Photo by Katie Oxford
13 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Fog in the afternoon. Caplen Beach, Bolivar peninsula
Fog still sits in the afternoon at Caplen Beach, Bolivar peninsula. Photo by Katie Oxford
7 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Bolivar Flats
Birds atop poles at Bolivar Flats. Photo by Katie Oxford
14. Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Bolivar jetty
A walk on a Bolivar jetty. Photo by Katie Oxford
15. Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Riding Ferry from Bolivar to Galveston. Wind - 40 mph
People riding a ferry from Bolivar to Galveston, wishing to soar like birds with winds at 40 mph. Photo by Katie Oxford
16 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Barge moving on Intracoastal Waterway like a giant Gillette razor blade
A barge moves on Intracoastal Waterway like a giant Gillette razor blade. Photo by Katie Oxford
1 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Merchandise table at Houston Audubon Bird Sanctuary in High Island
Merchandise table at Houston Audubon Bird Sanctuary on High Island. Photo by Katie Oxford
2 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014
T-shirts on sale at the Houston Audubon Bird Sanctuary in High Island. Photo by Katie Oxford
11 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Bird bathing itself on top of bollard at Galveston Ferry
4 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 At the end of a nameless road on the East Bay side, Bolivar peninsula or could it be a satellite view of planet earth?
5 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Ditch along nameless road - Bay side - Bolivar peninsula
6 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Looking at Intracoastal Waterway and barges but not visible in fog - still this thick at 2p.m
10 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Brown Pelicans - Bolivar Flats
9 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Pelican Island
8 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Anchored in Galveston Bay - Shot from Bolivar Ferry
3 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Worth protecting
13 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Fog in the afternoon. Caplen Beach, Bolivar peninsula
7 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Bolivar Flats
14. Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Bolivar jetty
15. Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Riding Ferry from Bolivar to Galveston. Wind - 40 mph
16 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Barge moving on Intracoastal Waterway like a giant Gillette razor blade
1 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014 Merchandise table at Houston Audubon Bird Sanctuary in High Island
2 Katie Oxford Galveston birds and the oil spill April 2014
News_Katie Oxford_hair cut_column mug_head shot

When I retraced the tracks of my previous trip to Galveston Bay, I noticed a good sign right away. At the Intracoastal Waterway Bridge, the marquee (OIL IN WATER – MUST REMAIN IN VEHICLE) had been removed. From the top of the bridge, things looked different too. Barges were back in business. They moved slowly down the canal straight stiff, like giant Gillette razor blades.

At High Island, I visited the Audubon Bird Sanctuary. A nice woman behind the merchandise table reported that there, fortunately, they’d been unaffected by the oil spill. “Songbirds don’t go in the water,” she explained. “Shorebirds are another story.”  

Indeed. I was told that to date, 220 birds had been recovered but of those, sadly, 211 had died and 9 were in rehabilitation.

 I was told that to date, 220 birds had been recovered but of those, sadly, 211 had died and 9 were in rehabilitation. 

Further west on Bolivar peninsula, I stopped for lunch at the Stingaree Restaurant and Marina. On the dock there, I visited with a group of fisherman who all agreed about the oil.  Thanks to a steady NE wind, it all blew west.

“We hadn’t seen any oil ANYWHERE,” one said.  “None in East Bay, none in the marshes.”  
 
“ZERO!” said another.
 
Inside, I learned more from my waitress. She explained that since the oil spill, the oyster fishing had been closed. Their popular Oyster Jubilee they served at $21.95 for one and $23.95 for two was currently, off the menu. Normally, their oyster season is from November to April.  
 
“We’ve missed it,” she said.  “We won’t have oysters again until next November.”  Let’s hope there are some left I thought.
 
A family sitting at the table next to mine had just been fishing at the jetty in Galveston. They’d caught 20 sheep heads. “We didn’t see any oil,” the father said, shaking his head, “but we saw a lot of people cleaning up.”
 
The big clean-up
 
Later, riding the ferry over to Galveston Island, I saw clean up crews too. Their yellow suits scattered the shoreline of Pelican Island like popcorn. I counted 20. Seawolf Park, still surrounded by booms, looked lonely. When I called there, an employee said that yes, the park was still closed. I wondered when they’d reopen.  
 
“I don’t know,” he answered, “but I’m ready to get back to work!  They told us a week or two . . .then they said a month . . .it just depends on those people cleaning up.”
 
 Whether it’s called dispersant, surface cleaning agent, or miscellaneous oil spill control agent, at the end of the day is there a difference?   
It begged the question, how exactly ARE they cleaning up this oil spill? One that I’d heard one official explain early on,  “this is a persistent oil, in large quantity and it will spread.”  
 
In Galveston, I tried to find out at the U.S. Coast Guard station. The guy at the gate couldn’t let me in but he did give me a local phone number. The Incident Command Post.  
 
I called the number and after identifying myself, was politely passed on to someone else. To my surprise, he, unlike most in my experience with the BP oil spill, was not only kind enough to take my call he gave me time and information. Patiently. He explained that the clean up involved a combination of things — booms, rakes, skimming boats and hot fresh water —depending on the specific environment. 
 
“Are they using dispersant?” I asked.
 
“No,” he said, “they are not,” saying these last words as if moving in slow motion.
 
He explained that there was one product they were using that was not natural. PES-51. Later, after getting home that evening, I went on the Internet.  
 
You know how sometimes, after you’ve been to the doctor, you go home and Google a term used by the doctor when offering a possible prognosis? You can scare yourself to death!  In this case, the more I read, the angrier I got.  Not at the fellow with the nice bedside manner, doing his job well. Not at the folks wearing the yellow suits or the powers that be that directed them there.  
 
I was angry with those careless captains moving in fog that can cover you like gravy, and I was angry with us. As stewards.   
 
Among many things, oil spills repeatedly reminds us of one fact. There exists no good alternative to cleaning them up. As it is, it’s a complicated balancing act. Our need for the clean up to be effective versus the toxicity of what we’re using to clean it up! 
 
Whether it’s called dispersant, surface cleaning agent, or miscellaneous oil spill control agent, at the end of the day is there a difference?  
 
Seems to me that if these are the best alternatives we’ve got, we’re in deep caca. And going deeper and deeper.
 
Anyway you like at it — oil spills are a bitch.

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