Texas Oil Spill Has 'Minimal' Impact on Wildlife So Far, Concerns Shift South

BAYTOWN, TEXAS --Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson spoke to a group of reporters today in Baytown, Texas about the rehabilitation process for birds that were affected by the recently reported oil spill in Galveston Bay. The General Land Office, which Patterson heads, has primary responsibility for the State of Texas for the remediation of oil spills. 

"The good news is," Patterson explained, "we have eight birds in distress. The bad news is... we have eight birds in distress." Patterson seemed relieved at the relatively low number of affected birds given the size and location of the spill, at a press conference and walk-through attended by Breitbart Texas.

Wildlife Response Services, managing director Rhonda Murgatroyd, gave the group of reporters a tour of the State's Wildlife Rehabilitation Trailer where the birds are being treated. Stressing the need for quiet for the birds, Murgatroyd cautioned reporters to be considerate of the recovering animals.

"The birds that are in here are already stressed from the oil," she stated. Because the birds are wild and not domesticated, she explained the need for quiet during the tour.

Staff members of Wildlife Response Services removed one of the ducks from its cage and with the help of another member and demonstrated the cleaning techniques required to emulsify the oil and clean the bird. A dishwashing soap solution was used to remove the oil, while a saline solution was used on the bird's eyes. The wild duck seemed remarkably calm under the circumstances of being handled before a number of people.

Patterson explained that under Texas law--the responsible party (not necessarily the party at fault)--is responsible for the entire cost of the cleanup effort. 

"This process shouldn't cost the taxpayers of Texas a dime," Patterson said. "I was contacted by officials from Kirby Inland Maine shortly after I was notified about the spill. They have been completely cooperative in the process thus far."

Paterson was accompanied on the animal rehabilitation tour by Greg Pollock, Deputy Commissioner for Oil Spill Prevention and Response, Texas General Land Office. Pollock has the primary responsibility for overseeing the operations of the General Land Office under these types of operations.

Patterson told the reporter that much--if not most--of the oil had been pushed out of Galveston Bay by a fortunate turn in the weather toward the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Pollock explained that the prevailing early spring currents in the Gulf would likely push the oil southward along the Texas coast. Another landfall is possible from Matagorda County southward, Pollock emplained.

"The north winds certainly helped move the oil out of Galveston Bay," Patterson told reporters. "I think Galveston Bay is going to have minimal impact."

If and when an eventual landfall takes place on the South Texas coast, Patterson explained, "The oil would move ashore in the form of tar balls which are much simpler to clean up."

"If you grew up in this part of the world, as I did," Patterson said, "you remember when you were a kid; your momma washed your feet with baby oil before you got back in the car after a trip to the beach.  Well, we don't have to do that anymore except in these occasional episodes where we have a spill."

"The good news about tar balls is it is a mechanical cleanup--somebody with a rake," Patterson concluded.

The General Land Office has a full time staff of 53 employees dedicated to spill prevention and cleanup according to Patterson. He explained these resources are throughout the Texas coast and are quickly consolidated in the event of a spill of this nature.

At the end of the tour, Murgatroyd explained the birds would be kept for approximately two weeks before being released into the wild. After cleaning the oil, the bird's natural oils in the feathers that help them float on the water have to be naturally re-applied before the ducks can swim. She said that while they were only caring for eight birds at this time, they are prepared for more when they are discovered. She said they can handle up to about 80 or so of the large white pelicans should the need arise.

Follow Bob Price on Twitter @BobPriceBBTX


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