Deny, Deny, Deny: Shell Ducks Blame for Gulf Oil Slick But Aerial Surveillance Casts Doubt


Royal Dutch Shell is blaming “natural seeps” for the 10-mile-long slick observed Wednesday evening between two of the company’s largest-producing sites in the central portion of the Gulf of Mexico. Despite Shell’s denial that either of its Ursa or Mars oil platforms is to blame, aerial surveillance footage shot by On Wings of Care pilot (and former NASA physicist) Bonny Schumaker casts doubt on the “natural seep” scenario (see photos below).

Here’s how Kristen Hays covered Shell’s denial for Reuters on April 12:

Royal Dutch Shell said an oil sheen near two of its offshore Gulf of Mexico oil and natural gas platforms was dissipating Thursday, and it was “very confident” its installations were not to blame.

The Hague-based company said the “orphan spill,” estimated to be about six barrels of oil, was breaking up. Shell said it would continue to monitor the sea floor with a pair of underwater robots.

“Shell’s subsea surveillance today and tomorrow will continue to determine if there is a connection between natural seeps and this orphan sheen,” the company said.

News of the sheen, first reported to U.S. regulators on Wednesday, came nearly two years after BP Plc’s deep sea Macondo well blew out on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and spewing more than 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The earlier drop in the company’s London-listed share price showed that investors remain anxious over potential oil accidents two years after the BP offshore spill, the worst ever in the United States.

BP embraced this same well-worn strategy when fresh oil began bubbling up to the surface – again – above the Macondo reservoir in August of 2011. In BP’s case, there is no record of natural seeps in the Macondo field, at least there wasn’t before the oil giant arrived on the scene. Independent researches believe BP created fissures and cracks in the seafloor during its heavy-handed efforts to “kill” the well in the summer of 2010.

Bonny Schumaker, accompanied by FSU scientist Ian McDonald, conducted a flyover of the area yesterday (April 12). Flight map and photos of the slick are below.

As point of reference, the Shell oil slick is between the waypoints numbered 0227 and 0228. As you can clearly see from the photos, the slick appears to be emanating from around the base of the Ursa platform. Natural seep? I seriously doubt it.

Photo credit to On Wings of Care

From pilot Bonny Schumaker:

The Shell slick was about 3 miles long and maybe 100 meters wide on average. Visibility wasn’t great out there due to a stationary front south of us, but the slick was clearly visible – as were others between there and the Louisiana coastline.

There were no skimmers or obvious surface-vessel activity in the area.

As always, thanks to Bonny for her heroic work out on the Gulf – for being our eyes 100 miles out. We’ll keep watching this unfortunate incident to see if the “natural seeps” claim holds.

Read the Reuters report by Kristen Hays here:

Read Bonny Schumaker’s full flyover report from April 12:

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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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