Barge Collision Spills Gasoline in Houston Ship Channel

May 11, 2019 Updated: May 11, 2019

BAYPORT, Texas—Multiple vessels collided in the Teon the afternoon of May 10, spilling an unknown volume of a toxic gasoline product and forcing the partial closure of the commercial waterway. The waterway remains partially closed on Saturday.

Authorities said at a news conference Saturday that the hull of a 755-foot tanker punctured storage tanks on a tug boat that was pushing two barges along the Houston Ship Channel.

One barge capsized Friday. The other was damaged.

No injuries were reported. It was unclear how much gasoline spilled out of the breached barge, which partially sank. Salvage teams were at the site on Saturday, U.S. Coast Guard officials said.

It was the second spill in two months to affect traffic on the 53-mile commercial waterway that connects Houston to the Gulf of Mexico. Nine U.S. oil refineries that process 12 percent of the national total operate along the ship channel.

Air monitoring systems have detected no “above actionable levels” of pollution, said Bayport Channel Collision Response, a group of federal, state and shipping officials organized to clear the wreckage and deal with the spill.

Emergency responders placed 1,600 feet of floating boom lines around the barges and additional booms along sensitive areas along the nearby bay, the group said.

The collision, between tanker Genesis River and a Kirby Inland Marine tug towing two barges, halted all traffic between lights 61 and 75, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

A safety zone also was set up that expanded shipping restrictions to light 66 and up to but not including the Bayport Ship Channel, officials said.

Each of the two barges were carrying about 25,000 gallons of a gasoline blendstock called reformate, according to Bayport Channel Collision Response.

The Coast Guard hasn’t revealed the cause of the collision. It’s trying to determine how much reformate leaked into the channel.

Reformate is colorless, flammable and toxic to touch, inhale or ingest.

Residents in the coastal community of League City could smell a strong odor of gasoline Friday night but air monitors did not detect chemicals in the air, the city said in a statement.

The National Weather Service said the smell of gas could carry several miles inland.

The Houston Chronicle reports the closure halted 29 inbound ships and 17 outbound.

In March, a fire at a petrochemical tank farm along the waterway burned for days, sending black smoke into the air and spilling fuel and solvent into the channel, disrupting ship traffic for weeks. Hundreds of people reported respiratory and other ailments at clinics set up to provide medical aid after the fire.

Petrochemical fire Texas 2
A plume of smoke rises from a petrochemical fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company in Deer Park, Texas, on March 18, 2019. (David J. Phillip/AP Photo)

The Associated Press contributed to this report.