The aftermath of the March 22, 2014 oil spill in Galveston, Texas has revealed some shocking truths about the oil and gas industry and how it can devastate communities. For starters, Galveston averages nearly one spill each day. Additionally, the bay has lost more than 35,000 acres of coastal marshes from groundwater pumping. It is a wonder that coastal citizens allow such destruction to take place, especially when considering that Galveston is in the heart of Texas’s fishing industry.
A March 22 collision between a bulk carrier and a barge released 168,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil into Galveston Bay. That’s about 7,000 bathtubs worth of this thick goo that entered the environment. And this isn’t just any kind of oil. It’s the worst of the worst. Fuel oil, or bunker fuel, is very toxic and extremely dense, so dense that it can’t be used by most engines. The only petroleum products more dense than it are residuals, including asphalt and tar. Its high viscosity makes it very difficult to clean up in the environment, as it coats landscapes and marine life.
We’re now beginning to see just what deadly impacts this spill is having on marine life, however, it will be some time before we know the full effects that this spill had. For example, 29 dead dolphins have been found in the area, bringing March’s total to 47. This has tripled last year’s total of 15 stranded dolphins.
Moreover, bird species were hit particularly hard by the oil spill, which happened close to important bird sanctuaries during a critical migratory period. Twenty species of birds has been affected, including the endangered Piping plover. So far, 258 oiled birds have been recovered, only 8 of them still alive.
These species and many more have been constantly under assault from oil and gas operations in the region. The unfortunate reality is that this massive spill was not an anomaly, some isolated glitch in an otherwise safe practice. Galveston Bay alone averages 285 spills a year over the past 15 years, with an average of around 100 gallons per spill. The volume of spilled oils can wreak havoc on coastal communities and their surrounding environment.
This catastrophic spill reveals just how unsafe every stage of offshore drilling can be. While the process of drilling for oil and gas offshore is exceedingly dangerous, especially in deepwater environments, the transporting of oils once they are extracted is a risky practice as well. Remember Exxon Valdez?
In light of this catastrophe, and many other similar disasters, it is a wonder that Atlantic coast states are proposing to begin drilling off their shores. They are playing a risky game with their coastal communities that rely on a healthy ocean to vital fishing, tourism, and shipping jobs. Residents in these areas will face many uncertainties if rigs go up in the oceans nearby, but there is one unavoidable aspect that they will need to address: it’s not if an oil spill happens, it’s when.