BP is trying to hide the real cause of the oil sheen in the Gulf — and we need answers


I’m not satisfied with the answers that we’re getting from BP and the federal government about the new oil slick at the Deepwater Horizon site in the Gulf that was first reported on this blog earlier this month. Neither are a lot of other folks. People are demanding evidence of where the fresh crude is coming from, because the storyline that BP is floating out there now — that a small amount of leftover oil is now being released from a bent riser at the rig that exploded in 2010 –simply is not holding water.

A congressman from Massachusetts wants an investigation:

U.S. Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, a top Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources, is calling for a full undersea survey of the Macondo site to be carried live on the Internet so independent scientists can see what is going on. A camera focused on the gushing well after the April 20, 2010, disaster, and when a massive cap halted the flow almost three months later.

“One can only hope that the nightmare well has not come back to haunt the people of the Gulf,” said Markey, a frequent oil industry critic.

BP wants us to believe that this new sheen is coming from residual oil from the Deepwater Horizon rig and the equipment that was used to cap it after the April 2010 explosion that killed 11 people and spewed an unbelievable 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. But most experts fear that the more likely source is a more troubling scenario, which is that the efforts to cap the massive leak two years ago led to cracks in the sea floor that are releasing fresh oil that cannot easily be stopped.

Here’s a good independent analysis of the situation:

But there is not that much oil in the riser. As the Washington Post reported Wednesday:

Marcia McNutt, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, said a rough calculation showed that the riser, if full of oil, could hold about 1,000 barrels of oil. Because it’s open on two ends it is unlikely to have that much oil, she said.

Indeed, Dr. Ian MacDonald – an expert in deep-ocean extreme communities including natural hydrocarbon seeps, gas hydrates, and mud volcano systems, a former long-time NOAA scientist, and a professor of Biological Oceanography at Florida State University- told us today:

The key statement in the BP discussion was the fact that oil recovered on the ocean surface was not biodegraded. This is not consistent with a pool of oil supposedly trapped in the wreckage of the riser, which would have been exposed to ambient bacterial activity for over two years.

As this piece also notes:

So where is the oil coming from?

We’re not sure yet.  But top oil spill experts – such as UC Berkeley professor and government consultant Robert Bea and LSU professor Ed Overton – have told us that oil blowouts such as the one in the Gulf can create new pathways to the seafloor and enlarge natural oil seeps … so that leaks can continue for years.

Exactly. But BP and the feds have plenty of good reason not to let people know if this is what’s indeed happening under the Gulf. That’s because that would mean that the Deepwater Horizon spill is still an ongoing event — one with no immediate end in sight — which would thwart the oil giant’s efforts to put the disaster behind them. In particular, it would really mess up BP’s efforts to settle its ongoing legal woes from the 2010 explosion. I’ve told you a lot recently about problems with BP’s proposed $8.7 billion settlement about claims by Gulf residents and small businesses.

In light of the discovery of this new oil sheen, GO FISH — a coalition of leading seafood industry group — has lodged a new set of objections to the settlement that reflect the changed landscape this fall. You can read their objection here. One of the problems they note in their summary is that the fishers are being asked to give up clains for future injuries and unknown damages based on a situation “different from the facts now know to be true…Without definitive proof that the BP-reported MC-252 sheen is a result of pocketed oil and nothing more, it is unwise to bind anybody to a release.”

Now there is also widespread unhappiness with a separate proposed multi-billion-dollar settlement between BP and the U.S. Justice Department. That’s because it’s been reported that the talks are focusing on a deal that would structure BP’s fines in a way that would give Washington more control over the money than local governments — and would also give the oil company a chance to write the fine off on its taxes. The mayor of Mobile, Ala. — Sam Jones — is one of a growing number of officials who thinks this approach is flat-out wrong.

“Such a diversion of money would represent an unfair boon to the large oil company responsible for all this damage by providing it with tax treatment that is totally undeserved,” Jones said in both letters. “With the nation struggling to control debt, it would be illogical to give such a tax break to BP.”

Jones also said he hoped the Obama Administration would not freeze local governments out of the process.

“The settlement should not be used as means by which BP is permitted to escape paying its fair share of taxes,” Jones wrote to Obama.

These things are not happening in a vacuum. They’re all connected. BP wants to sweep what’s going on at the Macondo field under the rug because it wants to settle its outstanding claims as quickly and with as little damage as possible. We can’t allow this to happen. There needs instead to be a thorough — and independent — investigation of where this new oil is really coming from.

To read our initial report on the spill from Oct. 3, go to: https://www.stuarthsmith.com/breaking-news-new-oil-sheen-near-site-of-deepwater-horizon-disaster/

To see Rep. Edward Markey calling for an investigation of the fresh oil sheen, check out: http://enr.construction.com/yb/enr/article.aspx?story_id=178001760

For an independent analysis of the new BP oil sheen, please read: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2012/10/no-the-gulf-oil-sheen-is-not-oil-coming-from-the-bp-wreckage.html

To read the GO FISH objections to the BP $7.8 billion settlement, please read: https://www.stuarthsmith.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/GO_FISH_Seafood_Industry_Settlement_Analysis_10.12.12.pdf

To read the Mobile mayor’s objection to the BP settlement talks with the U.S. Justice Department, please read: http://blog.al.com/live/2012/10/mobile_mayor_sam_jones_joins_i.html

© Smith Stag, LLC 2012 – All Rights Reserved


  • GREAT work you do and have done in the past. PLEASE keep up the great work. I would like to ad some of your blog posts or excerpts to my site and ref. you and your site if you don’t mind. I fully intend to see that BP pays “Fairly” for what they have done to the value of our porperties on Perdido Key, come hell or high water! I thought the recent ruling on “Pure Stigma” was interesting and unusual how it was ruled on at the time it was. Thanks Again!

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