BP Busted, Again: LSU Scientist Proves Fresh Oil Surfacing at Deepwater Horizon Site is from Macondo Reservoir

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The debate is over, and both BP and our federal government have some serious explaining to do. Upending repeated denials from the British oil giant and ongoing obfuscation from NOAA officials, a Louisiana State University scientist has confirmed through rigorous testing that oil surfacing in the vicinity of the Deepwater Horizon site – the epicenter of last year’s catastrophic Gulf spill – is indeed coming from BP’s Macondo Prospect.

In a story we broke here on this blog Aug. 17, subsequently confirmed by the Mobile Press-Register on Aug. 23, large amounts of fresh oil are bubbling to the surface where the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank to the Gulf floor on April 20, 2010 (see link to my previous post below).

BP met the “new leak” allegation in its typical reflex fashion – with blustering, indignant denials, snorting that “None of this is true” in an Aug. 18 statement.

The following day, flyover surveillance footage from On Wings of Care pilot Bonny Schumaker and her crew revealed expanses of oil “globules” in the water (see link to full report at bottom).


Photo credit to Jonathan Henderson of the Gulf Restoration Network (see link to Mr. Henderson’s full report at bottom)

After reviewing the Aug. 19 flyover footage, a crew from the Press-Register on Tuesday (Aug. 23) of the following week traveled by boat to the Deepwater Horizon site, photographed the area (see below) and took samples of the surface oil.


Photo credit to the Mobile Press-Register

At times over the last four weeks, the slick near the plugged Macondo Well has stretched for miles on end. This is not an insignificant amount of oil we’re talking about. The photos below are from Bonny Schumaker’s Aug. 30 flyover.


Photo credit to On Wings of Care/Terese Collins & Don Abrams

The much-anticipated test results are in at LSU, and they bear out our initial report: The infamous site that launched last year’s 200-million-gallon oil spill is leaking again.

Chemical confirmation that the oil is from the Macondo wellsite provides vindication for those of us who stayed with the story for more than a month now despite a hard-nosed campaign of denial, intimidation and obfuscation executed by BP and its bedfellows in our federal government. LSU scientist Ed Overton – who made the initial, preliminary tie to the Macondo reservoir – was browbeaten for weeks and accused of rushing to judgment. Even as he is exonerated, Overton’s indignation is unmistakable. And who can blame him? From a Sept. 26 Press-Register report by Ben Raines:

In a Sept. 15 email, NOAA’s [Ben] Sherman suggested that samples collected by the newspaper might not actually be from BP’s well, which is designated MC252 and called the Macondo well.

“Yes, the oil that you took was confirmed as MC252, but it does not necessarily mean it is in any way related to the (Deepwater Horizon) spill. Most of the oil throughout the region can be preliminarily identified as MC252 type,” the email read. Sherman went on to say that NOAA’s Scientific Support Coordinator had consulted with the LSU chemists and determined that the oil might not be from the BP well.

Overton said federal officials were wrong. He said he rechecked the newspaper’s oil samples using the more refined analysis recommended by BP’s scientists and federal officials.

“They were suggesting I had jumped the gun when I said it matched (BP’s well),” Overton said last week. “They are incorrect. I have double-checked, and I am even more convinced after using the suggestions that BP made that this was the Macondo oil. I think it is 99.9 percent confirmed that it came from that reservoir.

“It is a dead-ringer match. I was amazed that the ratios matched as good as they did.”

Overton said BP also provided him with samples from nearby oil sources, none of which matched the oil collected by the newspaper.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this entire situation is that BP, when given the opportunity to do the right thing, has a penchant for getting it wrong, over and over again. BP and the federal government have worked diligently to avoid the truth for weeks. And all the while, the oil has leaked on. More from the Press-Register report:

Neither the government nor BP has conducted testing that could find the spot on the seafloor where the oil is emanating, according to comments from federal agencies.

Hey, why would they try to locate the source? That could get them into real trouble.

And this from the Press-Register, touching on the federal government’s complicity in what’s turning out to be a significant coverup:

…further chemical analysis has confirmed that the oil originated in BP’s well, and not from other nearby sources, as federal officials have suggested.

And speaking of not getting it right, consider this from the P-R piece:

Federal officials said Friday that they have collected samples of the oil rising to the Gulf’s surface near the wellhead in the weeks since the Press-Register went to the site and sent samples to LSU.

But the samples collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration did not contain enough oil to determine if the BP well was the source, according to officials.

Certainly leaves you scratching your head how a newspaper (i.e., the Press-Register) can manage to get a good sample yet a government agency staffed with highly trained scientists can’t seem to get it right. At one point, BP and the Coast Guard said they had boats and aircraft scour the area but couldn’t locate the sheen at the site. Odd that everybody else could, don’t you think? Pilot Bonny Schumaker first observed the oil on her Aug. 19 flyover. She’s flown out to the site every week since then, and she has found the oil every single time. Yet the U.S. Coast Guard, part of the most elite military force in the world, can’t seem to find it. Interesting (and rather frightening actually). From an Aug. 26 Dow Jones report:

U.S. Coast Guard investigators and BP PLC (BP, BP.LN) have inspected the site of last year’s Deepwater Horizon disaster and said they’ve found no evidence that the plugged well is leaking and were unable to locate a surface sheen reported there by a regional newspaper.

So where does all this foot-dragging and incompetence leave us? Hopefully stepped up pressure from independent experts and public outcry will force BP to finally come clean. If BP has indeed confirmed that there’s no leak from the Macondo wellsite – as it says it has – why won’t company officials make the ROV video public?

The “no comment” approach won’t hold for much longer. Eventually, BP will have to come out of the bunker and address the issue head on. From the Press-Register report:

Petroleum engineers say that it is important to determine where the oil is coming from in order to rule out the possibility that it is moving up around the outside of the sealed well pipe.

“There are instruments that can be deployed to detect the hydrocarbons,” said Robert Bea, a petroleum engineer at the University of California and a member of the Deepwater Horizon Study Group, which includes more than 50 top scientists. “The oil companies use subsea-towed ’sniffers’ for this purpose.”

BP officials declined to answer whether the company would use a hydrocarbon sniffer, which can trace oil in the water column from the surface to the seafloor.

“This is crazy. I don’t understand why they are not doing that,” said Overton, who with his colleagues recently earned NOAA’s “Superior Accomplishment Award” for oil analysis done for the government during the oil spill.

“Whether it is coming from the well itself, or coming from the riser pipe, you can’t say unless you go down there and look,” Overton said. “There’s oil coming up. Where is it coming from? Send an ROV with a sniffer down and see if you see anything. As much money as has been spent, go spend a little more instead of denying that there is a problem.”

Makes a heck of a lot of sense to me, professor. Stay tuned…this is nowhere close to being over.

Read my previous post that broke the story on the new Macondo leak: http://www.stuarthsmith.com/oil-rising-again-from-macondo-well-bp-hires-fleet-of-40-shrimp-boats-to-lay-boom-around-old-deepwater-horizon-site

See pilot Bonny Schumaker’s reports (and footage) from the Gulf – and please donate to On Wings of Care so Bonny can continue her extremely important work: http://www.onwingsofcare.org/protection-a-preservation/gulf-of-mexico-oil-spill-2010/gulf-of-mexico-oil-spill-2011-spring.html

Read Jonathan Henderson’s Aug. 19 flyover report at the Gulf Restoration Network website: http://healthygulf.org/201108201718/blog/bps-oil-drilling-disaster-in-the-gulf-of-mexico/breaking-news-birds-eye-view-grn-spots-oil-near-bps-macondo-well

Read the full Sept. 26 Press-Register piece by Ben Raines here: http://blog.al.com/live/2011/09/lsu_confirms_oil_from_bp_well.html

See the Aug. 23 Press-Register photos of oil in the water here: http://blog.al.com/live/2011/08/deepwater_trouble_on_the_horiz.html

© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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