A shroud of secrecy continues to hang over the Deepwater Horizon site, 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana in the northern quadrant of the Gulf of Mexico. The Helix Producer I, a massive oil production vessel, is back in the area where the Deepwater Horizon rig sank to the sea floor – roughly 170 miles northeast of where BP officially lists its location. You may recall that the Helix, with the capacity to process 45,000 barrels of oil a day, helped capture oil spewing from the runaway Macondo Well last summer. In response to our Aug. 17 report that oil is rising from the Macondo field, BP spokesman Daren Beaudo said this: “We inspected our operations and our assets and didn’t find anything.”
So why is there an enormous oil production vessel currently parked atop the Macondo field? What’s it doing if there’s no leak and no oil?
On Wings of Care pilot Bonny Schumaker and two photographers, Jonathan Henderson and Tarik Zawia, from the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN) caught the Helix on film Friday (Aug. 19). From Schumaker’s Aug. 19 post-flight report (see link to full report below):
Heading toward the DH site (9111), we came across an interesting vessel known as “Helix”, and noted that their submerged equipment must have been about as deep as they could put it, for their cable was run out to the max. If you look at our gps map, the waypoint position for the “Helix” was number 9114 in the screen shot of our gps map below. (The gps file will tell you that the photo was taken from about 600′ above the water at lat/longs 28° 42.160′N, -088° 35.994′W.)
Photo credit to On Wings of Care and Jonathan Henderson at the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN).
According to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, the Helix Producer I “is a ship-shaped monohull floating production and offloading vessel. …It has no storage capability.” At 530 feet long and 95 feet wide, it’s hard to hide – even in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.
As of Aug. 17 (the most recent location date), MarineTraffic.com has the Helix stationary at Lat/Lon: 27.730009/-91.108063; Speed/Course: 0 kn/276°. Those coordinates put it roughly 170 miles southwest of where Bonny Schumaker and her team spotted it Aug. 19 – atop the Macondo field very close to where one of the relief wells was drilled by the vessel Development Driller III.
In the absence of any clue from BP or the Coast Guard, here are a few possible tasks the Helix could be performing:
1. Collecting oil from the sea floor and pumping it into barges at the surface;
2. Working to remotely seal a leak on the sea floor; or
3. Looking for the source of a leak with remotely operated vehicles (ROVs).
Our sources tell us, the Helix is most likely searching for the source of a leak with ROVs. That would explain why the submergence cable was run out nearly to the bare spool (as you can see in the photos). It seems plausible that the vessel is looking for the source of the oil that’s surfacing nearby.
Schumaker makes other curious observations in her report that further suggest something’s amiss:
We also saw some very strange expanses of greenish linear plumes, each maybe 300 feet wide and separated from the next one by about that same distance, running south to north (roughly). …We also came across an unusual ‘string’ of buoys, apparently anchored; some sort of sounding measurements? As we reached the DH site, we began to see numerous collections and lines of those strange-looking globules in what was otherwise smooth blue water (waypoints 9114-9117).
Photo credit to On Wings of Care and Jonathan Henderson at the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN). See links below to more photos from Bonny and Jonathan.
We will continue to provide details as they surface.
Read my previous post on fresh Macondo oil coming ashore on Breton Island in late March 2011: http://www.stuarthsmith.com/is-bps-macondo-well-site-still-leaking-fresh-oil-on-the-gulf-raises-concerns-and-haunting-memories
Read Jonathan Henderson’s damning report and view his video and photos of oil at the Deepwater Horizon site: 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
Check out Bonny Schumaker’s updated flyover report here at the On Wings of Care website – and please donate to her organization to keep these critical flights going: http://onwingsofcare.org/protection-a-preservation/gulf-of-mexico-oil-spill-2010/gulf-of-mexico-oil-spill-2011-spring.html
Read the Times-Picayune article on BP’s denial: http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2011/08/bp_denies_reports_of_oil_leaki.html
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