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The State of the Bay Galveston Bay Area Project

Aerial photograph of oil sheen along the Bolivar Peninsula. Data source: NOAA.  
Oil sheens were evident in the bay in the days after Hurricane Ike. This aerial photograph was taken along the Bolivar Peninsula. Data source: NOAA.  
Oil Spills

Given the highly urbanized and industrialized nature of much of the Lower Galveston Bay watershed, the potential for oil spills is always present. Spills related to industry and shipping are often considered the most common type of spill. Petroleum is highly toxic to some estuarine organisms, particularly larval stages. When spilled in water the lightest and most volatile components evaporate and become air pollution. Heavier components may float and combine into tar balls. The heaviest components sink to the sediment where they may damage benthic organisms, such as oysters. Petroleum compounds from a spill can be degraded by microbes present in the environment, but may remain at harmful levels for many years before complete degradation. 

The Texas General Land Office (GLO) Oil Spill Prevention and Response Program works with the U.S. Coast Guard and the responsible party to stop, contain, and clean up oil spills in waters of the Texas Coastal Zone. The GLO also collects data describing the number, volume, and nature of oil spills in Galveston Bay. Data date back to 1998 and are availble for waterbodies in four counties (Brazoria, Chambers, Galveston, and Harris) of the Lower Galveston Bay Watershed. Oil spill data are not collected for Liberty County, which lies outside of the Coast Zone boundary.


The oil spill data compiled for the Lower Galveston Bay Watershed describe 3,954 reported spill events from the years 1998 to 2010. The data contain waterbody and county of occurrence, date and time of the spill, volume of the spill, type of product spilled, and the source (vessel or facility). The number and volume of spills reported in the Lower Galveston Bay watershed is reported below by county, product type and source of spills. Latitudes and longitudes of the spill locations are not available. Additionally, data include only the oil spills that are reported to the GLO. Unreported spills are not included in the agency's database.

Number and Volume of Oil Spills

A total of 3,954 spills were reported in the Lower Galveston Bay watershed by the GLO during the period 1998-2010. As seen below, the number of spills reported by the GLO each year remained fairly constant over the 13 year period with a maximum of 397 spills reported in 2001 and a low of 208 spills reported in 2010. Harris County reported the greatest number of total spills (2,186 spills or 55 percent of all spills), likely due to the large concentration of industrial and shipping facilities along the Houston Ship Channel. Galveston County ranked second with 1,436 total spills (36 percent of all spills). Galveston County also has a concentration of industrial facilities in Texas City and port facilities are located in Texas City and on Galveston Island. The total number of spills in Brazoria and Chambers counties (167 and 165 total spills respectively) was nearly ten times less than those reported in Harris and Galveston counties over the 1998-2010 period. 

Total Volume and Number of Reported Oil Spills in Brazoria, Chambers, Galveston, and Harris counties, 1998-2010
Year Total Number of Spills Reported Total Volume of Spills Reported
1998 284 18,125
1999 387  33,021
2000 390 103,174
2001 397 123,828
2002 338 13,279
2003 315 10,381
2004 266 48,770
2005 246 20,678
2006 267 5,726
2007 306 6,915
2008 321 4,911
2009 229 27,279
2010  208 15,137
Total 3,954 431,224
Number and volume of oil spills reported annually by the TGLO in the Lower Galveston Bay Watershed, 1998–2010. Data are reported in table (top) and graph (bottom) form. Trends on the graph are significant if R2 is greater than 0.25.Data source: (TGLO 2010).


Literature Cited:

TGLO. 2010. Galveston Bay oil spill data: 1998-2009. Austin, Texas: Texas General Land Office, Oil Spill Prevention & Response Program.


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