33 months later, oil persists near the Deepwater Horizon site


In Louisiana, we are blessed to have a one-woman environmental protection agency by the name of Bonny Schumaker. A retired NASA physicist and pilot, Schumaker has found a way to merge her love of all creatures and her passion for flying to create an amazing operation called On Wings Of Care. She flies animal rescue missions but since 2010 has also devoted a lot of her energy toward helping her fellow citizens learn the truth about the aftermath of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster.

When the authorities wanted to restrict the public’s access to the site of the massive spill, Schumaker and her flights have documented both the scope of the spill and the extent of damage to marine life — and she hasn’t let up. In August 2011 and again in October 2012, her photographic evidence has forced BP, the U.S. Coast Guard, and other agencies to acknowledge and to investigate new sightings of fresh oil sheens near where BP’s rig blew up and sank. We’re still not satisfied with BP’s response to the problem, and we’re concerned that the oil may actually be coming from fissures under the sea.

One thing is undeniably clear from the photographic evidence: The oil is still there, 33 months after the explosion.

Earlier this month, Schumaker did an extensive flyover of the Gulf off the Louisiana coast, focusing on the Macondo oil field where the Deepwater Horizon rig was located. Here’s her description of what she found, posted to the On Wings of Care website:

Here is the large surface slick that has been sitting over the Macondo area since last autumn, with as yet no explanation from BP or the US Coast Guard as to its origin. Its persistence, even after the weeks of rough weather we have had in recent weeks and months, suggests that its flow is substantial. Scientists who have sampled it have found evidence of manmade products such as drilling mud. If indeed it is coming from wreckage, it is a mystery as to why it is only now surfacing, and its “lifetime” should be limited. Let us hope so!

Yes, let’s hope so, but BP’s protestations are getting harder and harder to believe…if that’s possible. The oil giant has insisted that a video inspection shows the crude was coming from a containment dome it had placed over the rig shortly after the explosion in April 2010, and that any leaks have now been repaired. But 1) the oil that was captured by that containment dome was a relatively small amount and 2) if the oil is from the dome and that’s been fixed, why does Bonny Schumaker continue to see fresh oil sheens on Jan. 20, 2013?

Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey (who may win election to the U.S. Senate later this year) said of the ongoing problems at the site: “Back in 2010, I said BP was either lying or incompetent. Well, it turns out they were both. This is the same crime scene, and the American public today is entitled to the same information that BP was lying about in 2010 so that we can understand the full dimension of the additional environmental .”

I could not agree more — there needs to be a thorough, outside, independent investigation of what it actually going on in the waters above the Macondo oil field. BP has shown us time and time against that it is not a trustworthy operation. The slick that is pictured above is not the only environmental carnage that Schumaker’s photographer Billy Dugger captured with his camera. There are several other sheens at or near the Macondo field, and their photographs also depict the ongoing situation at another Gulf spill — the Taylor Energy site — that has not received the national attention that it deserves.

But Schumaker’s photos also remind us of the greater threats to the ecology of the Gulf — not just from BP’s oil, which has devastated fisheries and sped the destruction of wetlands — but from the ongoing environmental woes of eroding marshes, runoff that is creating marine dead zones, and even rising sea levels caused by global warming. In her flyover this month, Schumaker toured the Chandeleur Islands, the easternmost point of Louisiana — barrier islands that are a key stop for migratory birds and critical marshlands. She found that the ongoing shrinkage of these key natural assets has accelerated dramatically in the last two-and-a-half years:

We returned to New Orleans by way of the exquisite Chandeleur Islands — or rather, what is left of them. How they have changed just in the past two years! For all the damage and changes caused by mankind, it is obvious from the air that storms have also been changing offshore Louisiana markedly. The amount of land surface in the fragile and exquistely beautiful Chandeleur Islands appears to have dropped by 30-50% since the summer of 2010. So has the number of nesting seabirds, and those birds who remain are crowded together very closely.

On one hand, it is heartbreaking to see the photographic evidence of such environmental destruction and loss. On the other hand, we are truly blessed to have someone like Bonny Schumaker fighting for the public’s right to know, especially at a time when many others have moved on to other stories or other issues. I applaud her efforts because if we’ve learned anything in the last three years, it’s that we can’t fully trust our government to tell us what is going on.

Support Bonny Schumaker’s On Wings of Care site at: http://www.onwingsofcare.org/

To see the photographs of her Jan. 20 Gulf flyover, go to: http://www.onwingsofcare.org/protection-a-preservation/gulf-of-mexico-oil-spill-2010/gulf-2013/354-20130120-ethereal-islands-and-very-real-oil.html

 Read my Aug. 17 , 2011 post that broke the story of the “new Macondo leak”: https://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: https://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: https://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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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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