ABC-13 gets exclusive look at how emergency crews respond to oil spills

For the first time, we're getting a look at the massive incident command center coordinating the effort to clean up oil spilled
March 31, 2014 4:50:47 PM PDT
It's been more than a week since a ship collision sent nearly 170,000 gallons of oil in the Houston Ship Channel and oil continues to drift south. Now we're getting an exclusive behind the scenes look at what it takes to respond to this spill of this size.

For the first time, we're getting an inside look at the massive incident command center coordinating the effort to clean up the spill.

"We have to balance how we're going to get our responders out here and how we're going to remove this oil," US Coast Guard Capt. Brian Penoyer said.

We got our tour with Congressman Randy Weber, whose district includes five ports. There are 300 people working from Matagorda Island, mitigating the damage from 168,000 gallons of spilled oil that poured into Galveston Bay after a collision between a barge and ship.

"We know where the oil is and we're making good progress against it, removing it from the environment," Penoyer said.

The people inside the command center are among the 2,000 working the spill from Galveston to south of Matagorda Bay.

The challenges are all the more evident from the air. On board a helicopter, there's a clear view of the 124,000 feet of absorbent boom lining the delicate coast.

Congressman Weber wanted to see this effort firsthand, assessing the short-term and potential long-term impact to his constituents.

"I want to report back to my constituents that everything is being done to mitigate this and to make sure that our area remains clean and pristine," Weber said.

Despite the loss of nearly 150 birds and the investigation into the deaths of four dolphins and a pair of turtles, the speed and breadth of the effort left Weber impressed.

"I'm just thoroughly, thoroughly encouraged and amazed by this operation. It's unbelievable," Weber said.

It's an operation we're told that will continue at some level for weeks, if not longer.

"They'll be working and continuing to work day and night, 24 hours a day, to remove the oil that's on the shoreline," Penoyer said.

Kirby Inland Marine, the barge owner, is paying for the cleanup efforts. The Coast Guard says it's an expense already into the millions of dollars and growing every day.

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