30-Mile Long “Mystery Slick” Off Louisiana Continues to Cause Distress and Confusion


The U.S. Coast Guard is looking for some wiggle room when it comes to that large “mystery” slick coming ashore on Louisiana beaches. After initially dismissing it as sediment from the Mississippi River, the Guard is offering some qualifiers since the “substance” does in fact contain oil (we’ll wait on our independent testing to see just how much oil). It’s one thing to take the sediment route when it’s adrift at sea, it’s entirely another when the “dark substance” is washing up on the beach where everyone can see, touch and smell the oil.

Amid the confusion and distress over the slick, we learn today that U.S. authorities have approved the first new deepwater drilling project since BP’s runaway Macondo well fouled the Gulf with more than 200 million gallons of crude. The nod goes to Shell.

The Telegraph newspaper in the United Kingdom reports: “U.S. authorities have given the green light to the Anglo-Dutch company’s plan to drill three wells at a depth of about 2,950 feet in a field 130 miles off the coast of Louisiana…the award is significant because the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) has so far only handed out a small number of deepwater permits to resume work on wells on which work had started before last April’s explosion at BP’s Macondo well.”

Incredibly, the Telegraph also carries this comment from our top oil industry regulator: “The decision to approve the plan ‘unmistakably demonstrates that oil and gas exploration can continue responsibly in deep water,’ insisted Michael Bromwich.” Now, that would be fine if Mr. Bromwich were a Shell spokesman, but he’s the director of BOEMRE. He works for “us.” Or at least we pay him, and taxpayer money should not fund his efforts to to be a cheerleader for Big Oil. Mr. Bromwich seems to be saying that since his agency approved Shell’s plan, deepwater drilling must be safe. What a joke.

As for the mystery slick, the USCG now explains, via a press release: “At this point, the dark substance is believed to be caused by a tremendous amount of sediment being carried down the Mississippi River due to high water, possibly further agitated by dredging operations.”

Meanwhile, we are getting eyewitness reports like this one, in the Times-Picayune, from Betty Doud: “I was out there from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. yesterday and the stuff came in in waves onto the island and through Caminada Pass,” she said. “There were these orange, nasty waves and black oil mixed with it. The oil was in the rocks along the pass.” The newspaper identifies Ms. Doud as a Grand Isle resident and volunteer with Louisiana Bucket Brigade.

State officials are conducting tests to see if the “substance” matches oil from the BP spill – and there’s a “testing story” buried in many of the media reports that will go virtually unnoticed, but it’s worth noting here. State officials are doing testing, because they no longer trust the feds to get it right. Parish officials will also do testing, because they don’t trust either the feds or the state to figure things out. And, independent environmental organizations, like my client the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), will do its own testing, because we don’t trust any of the above. Sadly, there’s a pervasive lack of trust that has become accepted as the way things are in the aftermath of the BP disaster.

Is it oil or isn’t it? By all accounts, the response is geared toward oil not garden-variety sediment. The Times-Picayune is reporting that “…workers have deployed about 10,000 feet of containment and sorbent boom to prevent damage to environmentally sensitive areas; two MARKO skimmers are being moved to the area and another two are available; and two barge boats and two drum skimmers are at the scene…the state has requested more boom, sorbents, skimmers and other equipment from the Coast Guard, said Garret Graves, coastal adviser to Gov. Bobby Jindal.”

Uh, would that be “sediment boom” or “oil boom” guys?

Here’s the Mark Schleifstein report from the Times-Picayune: http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2011/03/source_of_30-mile_oil_spill_in.html

And here’s the Telegraph story on the new drilling: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/8397157/Shell-wins-approval-to-drill-new-Gulf-of-Mexico-deepwater-wells.html

© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – All Rights Reserved

1 comment

  • The way I understand it the Coast Guard has broken the sightings of oil up into two separate incidents-one off Jefferson Parish hitting Grand Island and the other, the 100 ft. by 12 ft slick as something different.
    The Coast Guard did say it was oil washing into Caminada Pass and fowling Jefferson Parrish beaches. But that the larger slick, they say is the sediment from the river. The oil washing onto Jefferson Parish Beaches was deemed to be oil by Coast Guard on Sunday end of the day. Here is my first hand account of what I saw via photos and video. http://juliedermansky.blogspot.com/2011/03/as-one-year-anniversary-of-bp-disaster.html
    What I don’t get is if they think the oil that hit the coast might be from a well that spilled for 4-6 hours on Saturday, why weren’t emergency measures taken to protect the pass immediately and not wait to confirm it was oil until Monday. if there was a known spill all preventive efforts should have gone into effect to prevent further damage to the coast with out any delay. Also the oil seemed to be dispersed. If dispersence was used I want to know who authorized it.

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