Port Aransas ‘at the ready’
Cleanup of the spill, which started with an April 20 explosion aboard the rig Deepwater Horizon that killed 11 workers, resumed earlier this week. Various methods, including an as-yet-untried containment system, are being tried to stop or at least reduce the volume of oil spurting into Gulf waters, but winds and high waves hindered some of those efforts.
The spill is off the southeast coast of Louisiana and appears to be threatening Mississippi and Alabama beaches, as well as the Florida Panhandle. Oil is not currently predicted to head toward the Texas coast.
The University of Texas Marine Science Institute (UTMSI) has been talking with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration about responses to the spill. The Mission Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve, administered by UTMSI, is a part of NOAA; reserve manager Sally Morehead and research coordinator Dr. Ed Buskey have spoken with NOAA representatives, said UTMSI director Dr. Lee Fuiman.
Fuiman said he’s also spoken with the Texas General Land Office, which will coordinate the state’s response if needed.
“We are continuing to monitor the spill closely, and will increase our readiness to respond as conditions dictate,” Fuiman said in an e-mail. He said response preparedness may mean more supplies and specialized training for people at UTMSI.
“If the spill approaches our shores, we will mobilize a team and use NOAA’s protocols to establish baseline conditions before the impact and continue the assessment after the impact,” he said. “In addition, we have offered our scientific expertise to assist in those areas that are being impacted now.”
A vessel has already left the area to be on hand to help with the spill.
The Southern Responder, based at Ingleside On the Bay, was sent initially to the upper Texas coast as a standby measure, but later was ordered to the area of the spill.
The Southern Responder and several other vessels like it belong to the Marine Spill Response Corporation (MSRC), a non-profit corporation whose members are petroleum companies. The Ingleside site is one of several the MSRC maintains around the nation’s coasts; all stand ready to go to the scene of a marine oil spill and begin immediate cleanup operations.
The 210-foot-long Southern Responder is one of a class of vessels specially designed for the job, although no two are exactly alike. It can get to open waters at speeds of up to 12 knots and includes two 4,000-barrel tanks for temporary storage of spilled materials as well as the booms to contain a spill and equipment to separate oil from water.
The vessel actually has two crews – one to man the Responder, the other trained to clean up the spill. Each crew is six people. Port Aransas resident Jay Morris, an able seaman, is a crew member.
Calls from the South Jetty requesting more information about the Southern Responder’s current mission and location were not immediately returned.
Meanwhile, at least some Port Aransas residents and visitors have seen the Deepwater Horizon. The proof is in a photo of it as it passed through the jetties bound for Louisiana in 2006. The photo was provided by South Jetty reader and Port Aransas resident Nancy Phillips.