“From the air, you would have thought you were in the Deepwater Horizon spill”


Outside of the Gulf region, there hasn’t been a ton of publicity about Shell’s pipeline leak and oil spill off the coast of Louisiana that was revealed late last week. Maybe that’s the Deepwater Horizon Effect, since just six years after more than 4 million barrels of crude spewed into the Gulf, 88,000 gallons may sound like the proverbial drop in the bucket. The reality is very different, according to environmentalists who’ve actually witnessed the new spill first-hand. This weekend they documenting a sad new environmental blow against this precious natural resource, almost certain to further harm already stressed marine life in the Gulf.

Our report comes courtesy of my friend and ally in the Louisiana environmental movement, Bonny Schumaker, who took to the air this past Sunday with Ian MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University, to photograph the spill site and to document that extent of the oil sheen on the Gulf surface.

Here’s an excerpt from Bonny’s report at her On Wings of Care website:

The oil spill you have heard about since last Friday is about 30 nm (nautical miles) west of the Brutus platform in the Green Canyon lease block (GC248), roughly 100 miles south of Port Fourchon, LA.

They say they have stopped the leak (which does not mean they know where it is). Yesterday there were two skimming vessels in the vicinity, but they appeared to be on the distant periphery of the slick, and the amount of oil that appeared to be within their booms was pitifully small compared to the size of the slick, which covered over 5 square nautical miles (20 square kilometers, or about 5,000 acres). Even if the average thickness of the visible oil were a mere 100 micron (0.1 millimeter, vastly smaller than the areas of emulsified oil that stretch across the area), the visible surface oil would represent about 500,000 gallons of oil.  We haven’t seen images like this since the BP disaster of 2010.

The potential impact on marine wildlife is very real:

The blue water far offshore was still and serene, and beautiful except for this huge “blemish.”  We were disturbed to see a pod of about 50 dolphin swimming near the slick, as we wondered if they would find what appeared to be only one direction to go that would not put them into a very very long stretch of surface oil.  Flying below 1000′ brought in to the airplane a very uncomfortable smell of oil, so most of the time we stayed high enough that the smell was barely perceptible.

Their cameras also captured one of the skimmers trying to minimize the spill damage:

The official word from Shell is that the leak has been contained, because the wells that were supplying the busted pipeline have been shut off. Skimmers have reportedly recovered 51,000 gallons of the oil. The experience has been — not just with the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 but with other oil mishaps in the Gulf and elsewhere — that spills result in larger amounts of crude — and with more containment challenges — than is reported in the first couple of days of the event.

Here is what professor MacDonald told the NOLA.com website about what he witnessed on Sunday:

We saw porpoises in the oil, we saw balls of bait fish in the oil,” he said. “From the air, you would have thought you were in the Deepwater Horizon spill.

In 2010, a BP well blew out and led to the death of 11 workers aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. For 87 days, millions of gallons of oil leaked into the Gulf in the nation’s worst offshore spill.

He portrayed the spill as consisting of wide patches of rainbow sheen and long ribbons of thick oily mousse, the description of oil that has weathered.

MacDonald is a leading member of a consortium of scientists that is studying the environmental impacts of oil spills — a project that is paid for from a $500 million fund  established by BP in the wake of its 2010 spill. Members of the team are currently on board a research vessel that has departed Mississippi and that will be studying the impact of this new spill on larger marine wildlife, tiny microbes, and water quality. Unless we see major new restrictions on offshore drilling in the Gulf, it probably won’t be the last study of its kind.

To ready Bonny Schumaker’s full report at the On Wings of Care website, go to: http://www.onwingsofcare.org/index.php/protection-a-preservation/marine-life-habitat/gulf-of-mexico-oil-spill-2010/gulf-2016/490-20160515-shell-oil-spill-offshore-gulf-of-mexico

For more information on the flight and the latest on the Shell pipeline spill from NOLA.com, please read: http://www.nola.com/environment/index.ssf/2016/05/researchers_in_gulf_to_study_s.html

Learn more about the long battle for environmental justice in Louisiana and the Deep South in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on Americahttp://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved

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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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