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Port Arthur, Texas Oil Spill Closes Waterway, Threatens Economy and Wildlife

Jan 24, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

A major  oil spill in Texas has closed the Sabine-Neches Waterway.  As much as 11,000 barrels of oil may have leaked into the channel following Saturday's collision of a  barge and the 807-foot double hulled tanker Eagle Otome.  The oil spill is being called the biggest in Texas since 1991. 

The Sabine-Neches Waterway is used by four U.S. refineries in east Texas to transport their supply of oil. According to Reuters, the four facilities have a combined refining capacity of 1.15 million barrels, equal to about 6.5 percent of total U.S. capacity.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the oil spill threatens nearby marshes and wetlands that are home to juvenile shrimp and fin fish. The Coast Guard is still trying to determine whether the oil seeped into the wetlands.

According to the Chronicle, an extended closure of the Sabine-Neches channel would be disastrous to the local economy and could have an impact on gasoline prices nationwide.  For now, officials are saying the waterway will remain closed for at least 5 days.

The oil spill, which produced an acrid smell to permeate the air in Port Arthur, Texas, resulted in a voluntary evacuation recommendation being issued to the 57,000 residents of the town. According to a Reuters report, about a dozen people did evacuate, but were back in their homes on Sunday.

The Eagle Otome was on its way to Exxon Mobile Corps.’ Beaumont refinery on Saturday when the collision occurred. According to Reuters, the barge was one of two being moved by the Dixie Vengeance tug boat. The cause of the collision is unknown, and is being investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board.

State and environmental agencies are coordinating the clean up of the spill. According to Reuters, the spill is contained by several booms intended to prevent it from spreading. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that approximately 500 people and 15 skimmers were on hand for the cleanup. As of Sunday, about 1,100 barrels of oil had been recovered.

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