Eyes in the skies watch for oil in Galveston

July 14, 2010 3:57:50 PM PDT
With the arrival of tar balls on Texas beaches, a number of agencies are keeping a very close eye on the coastline from hundreds of feet in the air. Eyewitness News was the only local news agency invited to come along as officials surveyed the coast line for any signs of oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The news today is what they haven't found. We flew about 500 feet above the coast five miles out, from here Galveston to the Louisiana border in search of oil and tar balls. The good news -- so far they haven't seen any.

Twice a day every day since last Thursday and until further notice, a helicopter ratchets up above the Texas coast to look for any sign that any more oil might be headed this way. Observers with BP, the Texas General Land Office and the US Coast Guard haven't found anything here yet.

Prentice Danner with the U.S. Coast Guard said, "You can't see the smaller sporadic tar balls like we've been getting on Galveston coastline from this altitude necessarily."

They're looking for large clumps of tar balls, though, or oil sheen, which we're told is far easier to see from above than from the water's surface. On Wednesday we rode with them on the chopper as we made the trek from Galveston to Sabine Pass and back. Finding something from up there is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack -- difficult, they say, but necessary.

They say it's easy to mistake shadows from clouds or stirred up sediment for oil during the hour-plus flight. If and when they do see something suspicious, this bird's eye view gives them an opportunity to move more quickly to limit any damage it might do by coming ashore.

"We would mark it and forward it back to area command and dispatch what assets are needed," Danner explained.

So far though, the coast looks clear. BP's incident commander for BP's oil response in Texas says they'll be watching from above and below, but he is optimistic that most of the oil in the gulf is headed elsewhere.

"I know I'm pretty confident that we're not seeing anything here," Brian Bauer with BP said.

Authorities say they thought they'd spotted something last week, but it turned out just to be seaweed. As far as what's come ashore here, in all about 27 gallons of tar balls have been collected from Galveston Island. Nothing more has been confirmed as from the BP well.


Load Comments