The worst Texas oil spill in more than 15 years was contained Monday, and authorities credit a massive emergency response with averting an environmental disaster.
About 462,000 gallons of oil spilled when an 800-foot tanker headed for an Exxon Mobil Corp. refinery in Beaumont collided Saturday with a vessel pushing two barges. As of Monday, roughly 220,000 gallons of oil had evaporated or dispersed, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
No injuries have been reported, but Port Arthur residents were evacuated after the spill while officials tested the air quality. So far, only two oil-covered birds have been found.
More than 60 vessels and 550 people from the Coast Guard, the state, the shipping company and others responded to the spill and encircled it with 11 miles of plastic booms. Skimmer boats were removing the oil floating on the water.
The spill is mostly confined to a stretch of the Sabine Neches Waterway near Port Arthur, about 90 miles east of Houston.
"This response has helped contain this oil," said Texas General Land Office spokesman Jim Suydam. "Had this oil escaped the ship channel, it could have been a catastrophe."
Environmental watchdogs were encouraged by the speedy response but concerned about what air pollutants the people nearby were exposed to.
Hilton Kelley, a Port Arthur environmental activist and head of the group Community In-Power and Development Association, said he was near the water Saturday during the evacuation. He said the smell was so overpowering that he had to put on a respirator mask.
The evacuation was lifted Saturday night. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was monitoring the air and water quality and said there were no reports of problems with drinking water or wastewater.
The shipping channel was closed Monday, and it remains unclear when it will reopen, the Coast Guard said.