Ev­i­dence sug­gests tar ball threat to Texas beaches re­mains low

Deep­wa­ter oil likely didn’t get to Texas nat­u­rally, of­fi­cials say

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Asher Price

A day af­ter of­fi­cials an­nounced that roughly seven gal­lons of oil linked to the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon dis­as­ter had turned up dur­ing the week­end on Texas beaches, they said they hoped the link was a fluke.

Sev­eral state and fed­eral au­thor­i­ties down­played the in­ci­dent, say­ing the chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion of the oil that washed ashore sug- gested it had been moved by means other than nat­u­ral cur­rents.

“These tar balls did not seem to be weath­ered in a man­ner con­sis­tent with be­ing trans­ported from the well­head to Texas by Mother Na­ture,” said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Mar­cus Woodring, based in Hous­ton. Typ­i­cally, oil trav­el­ing that dis­tance would be emul­si­fied and hard­ened, al­most like as­phalt chips, by the time it These tar balls were found on Crys­tal Beach and Galve­ston’s East Beach dur­ing the hol­i­day week­end. Texas of­fi­cials re­main on alert for more oil head­ing for state beaches.

Con­tin­ued from A washed ashore, he said.

“These were tacky, a lit­tle bit gooey,” he said. The Coast Guard is in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether the oil was some­how trans­ported on the hull of a ship.

The Coast Guard is ex­am­in­ing at least five ships that take oily wa­ter to Pel­i­can Is­land in Galve­ston Bay, where a com­pany called U.S. Liq­uids of Louisiana sep­a­rates the oil from wa­ter, said Texas Land Com­mis­sioner Jerry Pat­ter­son, whose of­fice over­sees the Texas re­sponse to oil spills.

As a pre­cau­tion, the Coast Guard and Texas Gen­eral Land Of­fice are set­ting up a small com­mand post in Galve­ston. Contractors are on standby for beach cleanup. Tar balls washed up since the week­end con­tinue to be sent to labs for anal­y­sis. And on Tues­day, the state at­tor­ney gen­eral an­nounced he was ask­ing BP, the op­er­a­tor of the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon rig that was de­stroyed in April, lead­ing to the en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter, to set aside $25 mil­lion to pay for Texas cleanup ef­forts.

“BP will be held fully fi­nan­cially ac­count­able for the costs in­curred by the tax­pay­ers when state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments en­gage in cleanup and re­sponse ef­forts,” At­tor­ney Gen­eral Greg Abbott said.

But Pat­ter­son’s mes­sage was sim­ple: The beaches are open.

“Tar balls on the Texas coast is noth­ing new,” Pat­ter­son said. “If an oil cleanup is nec­es­sary, we are ready.”

At a news con­fer­ence Tues­day, Pat­ter­son said he thought it un­likely that the tar balls that washed up near Galve­ston and the Bo­li­var Penin­sula over the week­end had been car­ried there nat­u­rally by Gulf of Mex­ico cur­rents.

“My hunch is no,” he said. He said the cleanup ef­forts are “far, far from a $25 mil­lion bud­get and we hope it An­thony Batchan, left, and Joseph Thomas pick up oil-coated sea­weed at McFaddin Beach on Tues­day. It will be tested to de­ter­mine if the oil orig­i­nated from the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon leak.

stays that way.”

He said he would not rule out Hur­ri­cane Alex, which swept through the Gulf Coast late last week, as the cul­prit.

Woodring said au­thor­i­ties are in­creas­ing pa­trols on beaches to keep an eye out for tar balls, as well as heli­copter flights to spot oil sheens.

Other agen­cies are re­main­ing on alert but stop­ping short of ac­tion.

No booms are be­ing de­ployed at the fed­eral McFaddin and Texas Point na­tional wildlife refuges, which have about 20 miles of coastal frontage, said Nancy Brown, a spokes­woman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice.

The coastal ar­eas where the Deep­wa­ter tar balls turned up have also served as nest­ing ar­eas for en­dan­gered sea tur­tles.

Texas en­vi­ron­men­tal groups said that re­gard­less of how the Deep­wa­ter oil ended up on Texas beaches, the tar balls were a sig­nal of the dis­as­ter’s reach.

“The tar balls that we are be­gin­ning to see in Texas are only a sign of the cat­a­strophic im­pacts to the Gulf of Mex­ico from the BP Oil Dis­as­ter,” Ken Kramer, di­rec­tor of the Lone Star chap­ter of the Sierra Club, said in a state­ment.

Pat­ter­son said he had been sur­prised at the news of the link be­tween the tar balls and the Deep­wa­ter in­ci­dent. Long-term fore­casts with the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion sug­gest that the oil spill will tend to move east, to­ward Florida, rather than to­ward Texas.

A NOAA re­port ti­tled “Prob­a­bil­ity of Shore­line Threat” had sug­gested that the east­ern­most por­tion of the Texas coast faced less than a 40 per­cent threat 120 days af­ter the ini­tial re­lease of oil; about 75 days have now passed.

“It’s very hard to fig­ure out how it could have oc­curred,” Pat­ter­son said. “With all the mod­el­ing, all the aerial re­con­nais­sance of the spill and the sheen, it frankly didn’t make any sense.”

Michael Paulsen pho­tos houS­ton chron­i­cle

An­drew Gar­cia, right, a ma­rine sci­ence tech­ni­cian third class with the U.S. Coast Guard, and Lt. Jamie Koppi an­a­lyze a tar ball spec­i­men on Galve­ston’s Sunny Beach. Most of the tar balls found Tues­day were old, so­lid­i­fied spec­i­mens.

Guiseppe Bar­ranco

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