Coast Guard working with EPA to get ship channel back to normal

ITC officials in Deer Park have announced that all pygas tanks in the burned area have now been contained. The pygas was the source of the benzene emissions.

Now they are working on containing the contents of seven tanks on that tank farm.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard is working to get ship traffic back to normal on the Houston ship channel after pollution from those tanks got into the water.

Vessel traffic has increased on the ship channel on Wednesday compared to days prior when the Coast Guard was only allowing about half of the normal number of ships and tugs to go through.

“We have oil containment booms around places like Jacinto port, and the Carpenter’s Bayou and the Old River," said Steve Nerheim, Director of Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Services.

The Coast Guard is continuing to work with the EPA to contain and remove oily pockets from the ship channel that were left after part of the dike wall at ITC collapsed on Friday, spilling pollution into the waterway.

Inside Vessel Traffic Services, Coast Guard officials are directing the ships and tugs single file today.

“We’re moving traffic essentially in both directions, but just one way at a time for ships. So we ran ships out this morning," said Nerheim. "Later today, we’ll start seeing the first inbound ships appearing above Lynchburg.”

Coast Guard officials say only 11 ships went through the contaminated area between Tucker’s Bayou and Lynchburg on Tuesday. Of those ships, just one picked up oily matter on its hull.

Kevin Oditt/incident commander

“They have pressure washers. They wash it off, and then they have absorbents that they will recover the product," said Incident Commander Kevin Oditt.

On Wednesday, about 100 ships are anchored at the Galveston anchorage area. Many of those ships are waiting to get into the upper ship channel, but stalled due to the pollution cleanup.

Coast Guard officials say the economy will take a hit from the slower traffic.

“The economic value of this port is $600-700 million a day, but that’s not the first. After the effect, it’ll have time to bite.”

Tricon Energy is one of the companies impacted by the shipping slowdown.

Mr James Prazak/Tricon Energy performance director

“Those cargoes are not moving as fast as we want," said James Prazak, Tricon Energy Performance Director. "We have customers who want their cargo. We have people we want to deliver cargo to.”

Commerce is not the only thing impacted by the water pollution.

The EPA told us today that 14 fish deaths and 1 turtle were observed in a concentrated area near the ITC facility.