Here We Go Again: Shell Triggers Spill Response to Contain 10-Mile-Long Slick in Gulf of Mexico


There’s more oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico this morning. Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, has dispatched a spill-response vessel to monitor a one-mile by 10-mile expanse of oil sheen between two of its major production sites in the “central portion” of the Gulf – roughly 130 miles south of New Orleans. The deployed vessel, the Louisiana Responder, has skimming and boom capabilities.

From an official Shell statement released this morning to the London Stock Exchange:

On April 11, Shell notified the National Response Center (NRC) of a light sheen in the central portion of the Gulf of Mexico, between the Mars and Ursa production area.

Shell has no current indication that the sheen originates from wells in either the Mars or Ursa projects.

However, out of prudent caution, Shell has activated the Louisiana Responder, a Marine Spill Response Corporation (MSRC) vessel. The Louisiana Responder is an oil spill response vessel with skimming and boom capabilities. Shell has also requested flights to monitor the one by ten-mile sheen closely with additional aerial surveillance.

At this time, the source of this sheen is unknown, and Shell’s priority is to respond proactively, safely, and in close coordination with regulatory agencies. Updates will be provided as further action is taken.

It is being reported that both the Mars and Ursa production sites are still operating.

Despite issuing the (above) statement aimed at calming market fears, Shell’s stock price slid more than 4 percent, an indication that investors are losing faith in the oil giant’s ability to operate safely. Shell has been responsible for a number of recent spills around the world. From an April 12 Bloomberg report by Eduard Gismatullin:

The [Shell oil] company, based in The Hague, has had several leaks in the North Sea and Nigeria since August, which were the worst spills in at least a decade in the regions.

Separately, Shell said operational spills of oil and oil products doubled to 6,000 metric tons last year, up from 2,900 tons in 2010, according to the company’s sustainability report published on its website today. The Bonga field spill in Nigeria accounted for about 80 percent of the total volume in 2011, it said.

Shell’s new problems in the Gulf come as the company prepares to drill in the Chukchi Sea off the Alaskan coast.

According to a government statement, the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement “is taking steps to identify the source of a sheen reported today in the central Gulf of Mexico, and will continue to coordinate with the U.S. Coast Guard to respond to and monitor any potential pollution.”

We’ll provide updates to this breaking story as they become available.

Here’s the Bloomberg report:

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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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