Evidence suggests tar ball threat to Texas beaches remains low
Deepwater oil likely didn’t get to Texas naturally, officials say
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.”
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.