New photo evidence that Gulf is drenched in oil, as BP trial drags on

Sometimes it feels like conversations about the Gulf of Mexico — nearly three years after BP’s Deepwater Horizon catastrophe unleashed roughly 5 million barrels of fresh crude — take place in parallel universes.  Inside a courtroom here in New Orleans, BP and its high-priced lawyers continue to push for lower estimate of how much oil was spilled, while their unending barrage of uptempo TV ads seeks to convince Americans that the environmental disaster is ancient history.

The reality is completely different. Environmentalist and pilot Bonny Schumaker, of On Wings Of Care, took to the skies over the Gulf yet again this weekend and produces sad and stunning photo documentation of a natural treasure that remains under assault from crude oil pollution, both at and near the Deepwater Horizon site, near another industrial oil spill, as well as unexplained seepage of fresh crude. The ongoing damage to this vital natural resource continues to threaten not only low-lying wetlands but key wildlife sanctuaries and marine habitats.

Here’s how Bonny Schumaker describes what she’s seeing, both now and over the last three years:

A few weeks ago, our flight over the Gulf showed little of the usual ugly sheen we had been seeing off the southeast coast of Louisiana for the past six months, so we voiced cautious but hopeful optimism. (See “Clearer views and good news for the Gulf?“) But today’s flight gave us anything but optimism.  We saw pervasive rainbow and gray sheen in many places, including the two chronic pollution sites that have plagued the Gulf for years now — the Taylor Energy site about 12 nautical miles (nm) off the southern tip of Louisiana, and the Macondo prospect another 50 nm offshore (home to the infamous lease block MC252 and the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe of 2010 April). We have flown more than 500 flight hours in the past three years over these offshore and coastal waters, and the two trends that disturb us most are 1) sources of “unknown sheen” are constant and uniquitous, and 2) the presence of visible marine life has dropped drastically.   After today’s flight, we filed 15 NRC reports with the US Coast Guard for significant oil slicks or sheens over our 350-nm route.

Here is some of the background. It was the On Wings of Care flights over the Gulf that has documented a series of alarming oil sheens in the Macondo oil field, which is where the Deepwater Horizon was located. The first major discovery was in the summer of 2011, or roughly a year after the oil leak, which prompted an investigation and a raft of denials from BP. In November of last year, the oil was back — and this time BP, confronted by indisputable evidence, tried to blame the problems on a small leak from a containment dome. The Coast Guard, thanks to pressure from officials like Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey, continues to look more closely at the real cause of the problem. We’ve long been concerned that pressure from the drilling in the unstable Macondo area may have caused cracks in the sea floor.

I would urge you to read all of Bonnie’s whole flyover report. It coves a lot of territory in the Gulf, including another oil rig spill — the Taylor Energy site. which is much closer to the Louisiana coastline than the BP site — as well as other apparent oil slicks or pollution of unknown origins.

Here’s a photo of the Taylor slick:

 

However, the ongoing situation at the Macondo field remains particularly vexing, as she reports:

As we flew southward from MC252, we found the ENSCO DS-3 drillship still where it has been for the past several months, and a few miles beyond that BP’s MC474A “Nakiki” production platform.  This platform was flaring, as usual, with dirty smoke rising high into the air. There was light surface sheen for miles and miles to the north and east of Nakiki, and scattered rainbow patches in the sheen to its north.  We also noted several other significant-looking areas of surface sheen between here and about 10 nm northwest of MC252, making a total of three more NRC pollution reports beginning with the sheen at MC252.

Here is one final picture from near the Macondo site:

This is more remarkable – albeit somewhat depressing — work from On Wings of Care. In the big picture, it continues to puncture the myth that Big Oil is capable of drilling safely in the Gulf, especially in a complex formation like the Macondo Field. On a more down-to-earth level, it gives me one final chance to urge readers to nominate On Wings of Care for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Guardian of the Gulf Award — it is a couple of minutes well spent. (The form is here.) 

To read the On Wings of Care flight report from March 8 (last Friday), please check out: http://onwingsofcare.org/index.php/protection-a-preservation/gulf-of-mexico-oil-spill-2010/gulf-2013/365-20130308-rainbow-rage-pervasive-sheen.html

My March 8 post urging support for OWOC to win a “Guardian of the Gulf” award is here: http://www.stuarthsmith.com/help-bonny-schumakers-on-wings-of-care-get-the-recognition-it-deserves/

The actual nomination form is here: http://www.stuarthsmith.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/20130308-OWOC_EPAGulfGuardianApplication-FilledOut-v3.docx

Read my Aug. 17 , 2011 post that broke the story of 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

To check out my post from November 2011 about leaks at the Macondo field, go to: http://www.stuarthsmith.com/breakthrough-in-the-macondo-mystery-bp-admits-to-new-activity-at-deepwater-horizon-site/

Here is our report from Oct. 3 of last year about another fresh oil sheen in the Gulf: http://www.stuarthsmith.com/breaking-news-new-oil-sheen-near-site-of-deepwater-horizon-disaster/

To read Bonny Schumaker’s report of a Dec. 2, flyover please go to: http://www.onwingsofcare.org/protection-a-preservation/gulf-of-mexico-oil-spill-2010/gulf-2012/334-20121202-slicks-macondo-area.html

For more information about BP’s ongoing misinformation about leaks at the Macondo sire, please read: http://www.rightinginjustice.com/news/2012/12/17/bps-deepwater-horizon-well-could-be-leaking-again-investigations-suggest/

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