Oil Tanker Surfing

Massive oil tankers, which began traversing the Gulf of Mexico during the Texas Oil Boom in the early 1900s, have turned Galveston Bay into an unlikely surf break. The large ships create waves that can be a mile long, providing an unusually long ride for surfers. James Fulbright, one of the pioneers of so-called “tanker surfing,” brought attention to the phenomenon almost 20 years ago when he and his friends were features in Dana Brown’s surf film, Step into Liquid. Now, it has evolved into a thriving subculture. Photographer and surfer Kenny Braun, who has documented this community of surfers in his book Surf Texas, described the surprisingly ideal wave conditions in Slate:

“For tanker surfing, Galveston Bay is perfectly shaped geographically. Fully loaded oil tankers come steaming in at full speed and travel approximately 30 miles before entering the Houston Ship Channel. The ship’s wake produces a beautiful shoulder high wave that can be ridden for 20 minutes. The average ocean wave ride is 20 seconds.” 

Tanker surfing, a sport that directly stems from the expansion of global fossil fuel production and trade, highlights the ways in which culture and communities are intimately tied with energy. In this case, the phenomenon is an inspiring example of how culture might evolve in surprising ways and disrupt the way we think about energy going forward.
Texas Oil spill puts wildlife in harm's way

The heavy oil spilled into Galveston Bay showed signs Monday of harming one of the nation’s great natural nurseries, with biologists finding dozens of oiled birds on just one part of the Bolivar Peninsula.

Scientists found the birds on a wildlife refuge just two miles from where a partially sunken barge leaked as much as 168,000 gallons of thick bunker fuel oil after colliding with another vessel Saturday.

“We expect this to get much worse,” said Jessica Jubin, a spokeswoman for the Houston Audubon Society, which manages the Bolivar Flats preserve where the birds were found.

The concern comes as tens of thousands of birds are passing through the upper Texas coast on their annual flight north. But the worry also extends to the bay’s oyster reefs and the shrimp, crabs and fish that rely on the coastal marshes for shelter and food.

Scientists said that while the spill’s damage will be magnified by its awful timing, it could take years for a fuller picture of the ecological toll to emerge.

Galveston Bay was under stress from development, drought, pollution and storms. But its oil spills are typically small, averaging about 100 gallons per incident, according to an analysis by the Houston Advanced Research Center. The latest spill is the largest in the Ship Channel since a facility leaked 70,000 gallons of bunker fuel in 2000.

For now, the primary concern is the marshes, which have declined over decades because of sea-level rise, erosion and subsidence, a condition caused by sinking soil.

Barge leaking oil in Galveston Bay threatens migratory shorebirds TEXAS CITY —

Crews armed with infrared cameras planned to work through the night after a barge carrying nearly a million gallons of especially thick, sticky oil collided with a ship in Galveston Bay, leaking an unknown amount of the fuel into the popular bird habitat as the peak of the migratory shorebird season was approaching.

Booms were brought in to try to contain the spill, which the Coast Guard said was reported at around 12:30 p.m. Saturday by the captain of the 585-foot ship, Summer Wind. Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Kristopher Kidd said the spill hadn’t been contained as of 10 p.m., and that the collision was still being investigated.

The ship collided with a barge carrying 924,000 gallons of marine fuel oil, also known as special bunker, that was being towed by the vessel Miss Susan, the Coast Guard said. It didn’t give an estimate of how much fuel had spilled into the bay, but there was a visible sheen of oil at the scene.

Officials believe only one of the barge’s tanks was breached, but that tank had a capacity of 168,000 gallons.

“A large amount of that has been discharged,” Kidd said. He said a plan was being developed to remove the remaining oil from the barge, but the removal had not begun.

The barge was resting on the bottom of the channel, with part of it submerged. He said boom was being set up in the water to protect environmentally-sensitive areas and that people would be working through the night with infrared cameras to locate and skim the oil.

The barge was being towed from Texas City to Bolivar at the time. The Coast Guard said that Kirby Inland Marine, which owns the tow vessel and barge, was working with it and the Texas General Land Office at the scene.

The Coast Guard said six crew members from the tow vessel were in stable condition, but it offered no details about their injuries. (via Barge leaking oil in Galveston Bay threatens migratory shorebirds | Dallas Morning News)