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Hardy buoys: Texas A&M project predicts oil spill movements

a spill is headed.

In all, nine buoys are used in the TABS project, stretching from near Sabine Pass on the upper Texas coast down to the border of Mexico near Brownsville, an area covering about 400 miles in length and reaching 100 miles off the coast. The TABS project is coordinated by the Texas General Land Office, which funds much of the $1 million-plus buoy system, and by oil companies who operate in the Gulf of Mexico.

Buoys range in size from torpedo-shaped eight-foot long cylinders to circular-shaped ones, each floating on the water's surface. Prices of each range from about $30,000 to $200,000, depending on the sensors installed.

A 2-cent-per-barrel tax on all oil transported in Texas waters helps support most of the costs, Guinasso says.

The TABS project was put to the test in 1996 shortly after the first buoys were positioned in the Gulf of Mexico. In March of that year, the Buffalo Barge 292 started spilling oil into the Houston Ship Channel and the sludge was quickly blown out to sea by a strong cold front that had moved in from the north.

First reports indicated that the oil spill was headed toward a sensitive marine sanctuary at Sabine Pass, but within hours, the TABS system showed the opposite was true - the spill was headed south down the Texas coast, and the result was the saving of at least $250,000 in cleanup costs.

"But the important thing is that state officials realized the true value of these buoys," Guinasso says. "We saved the time and effort of mounting a response in areas where it wasn't needed."

The buoys are silent sentinels standing watch over the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, the region's only coral reef, located about 90 miles south of Galveston. They warn of impending pollution, such as oil spills from the many oil drilling platforms in the area.

All oil companies operating within 40 miles of the Flower Garden Banks are required by law to protect it,
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Contact: Keith Randall
kr@univrel.tamu.edu
979-845-4644
Texas A&M University
15-Sep-2004


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