Breaking news: New oil sheen near site of Deepwater Horizon disaster


Here we go again. Federal officials acknowledge that they’re investigating a new oil sheen in the vicinity of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 workers and spewed 5 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico. The announcement from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, says that British Petroleum is involved in the probe and that the source of the fresh oil could well be BP’s damaged rig.

Here’s the incident report that was posted with little fanfare by NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration on Sept. 17:

This hotline is being started for new reports of sheen of unknown origin in and near lease block Mississippi Canyon 252. This incident is likely related to reports in August 2011 (See incident #8345, Aug2011). Although the source of these sheens may be the wrecked BP Macondo Well, this relationship has not been established at this time. Activities include daily overflights sponsored by BP, with USCG or NOAA observers on board intermitently. BP is sending a vessel to the area with an ROV to investigate the potential source.

This news is dismaying and upsetting, but it does not come as a complete surprise. As alluded to in NOAA’s incident report, oil leaks in the area have happened before in the time since the unchecked flow of oil from the damaged rig was first capped in the summer of 2010. Last August, officials confirmed a fresh leak of sweet Louisiana crude from the Macondo field where the BP rig had exploded. Both BP and federal officials tried to initially deny the problem when the story was broken on this blog, but shifted gear after pilot Bonny Schumaker from the Wings of Care, followed by independent journalists, confirmed the oil sheen and the pungent aroma of crude which was fingerprinted fresh Macondo oil by several laboratories. .

Experts had predicted such oil leaks would likely take place after the Deepwater Horizon rig was capped. That’s because the blocked oil continues to seek a path to the surface, and that could create fissures or cracks in the sea floor for the hydrocarbons to escape. This situation is exactly what we’d warned about in 2010 — that the rig diaster, caused by BP’s reckless and foolish actions, would continue to wreak havoc on the Gulf environment for years to come.

Since learning of this new incident in the last few hours, we’ve been working to mount our own investigation into what exactly is going on in the Macondo field. I hope we can do so, because in the past we haven’t been able to fully trust the official investigations and clean-up efforts.

But there’s one other critical thing that I want to note here. This fresh oil sheen comes just one month after Hurricane Isaac came and churned up a lot of the roughly 1 million barrels of BP oil that experts believe is still in the Gulf, dropping tar balls and other goo onto our formerly pristine beaches. And now this new revelation of leaking oil from Macondo comes at a very important time.

In recent weeks, BP and a select group of lawyers tapped to represent Gulf citizens and small business owners — the Plaintiff’s Steering Committee, or PSC — has been pushing, and pushing hard, to ram through a $7.8 billion settlement of the plaintiff’s damage claims. But several key players including the U.S. Justice Department and the states of Louisiana and Mississippi have objected to the settlement on a variety of legal and environmental grounds, while thousands of claimants, including those represented by my law firm, want the deal tossed out.

One of our big reasons for opposing the current $7.8 billion settlement is that it treats the BP oil spill as essentially over, when the reality is that oil from the Macondo field continues to assault our beaches and marshlands and threatens the integrity of our seafood. BP and the PSC also refuse to publically release the scientific assumptions upon which the settlement is based. And now today, some 30 full months after the explosion on the rig, there is still fresh crude pouring into the Gulf from the vicinity of BP’s rig. This oily sheen should make things very clear: This is not over by a long shot and BP needs to come up with a lot more money. It’s time that BP and the Feds come clean about all this fresh oil.

To read the NOAA incident report, go to:

Read my Aug. 17 , 2011 post that broke the story of the “new Macondo leak”:

To check out my post from last November about the 2011 leaks at the Macondo field, check out:

 To read my post on why Gulf residents and business owners are objecting to the proposed $7.8 million settlement, check out:

 © Smith Stag, LLC 2012 – All Rights Reserved


  • We need to argue to extend the OPA Statute of limitations. If the oil continues to leak the well was not plugged correctly. As long as the oil continues to flow out of this reported seven-mile crack in the floor of the Gulf, the statute should not begin to toll until the oil is completely stopped. Keep the faith. And pace yourself, this is a marathon not a sprint.

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