Is BP’s Macondo Prospect Still Leaking? Fresh Oil Is Coming Ashore More Than 100 Miles Away


Scientists confirmed last month that BP’s oil continues to bubble to the surface where the infamous Deepwater Horizon rig once sat. While federal officials bury their heads, the situation in the Gulf worsens by the day. We now believe this second wave of BP oil has made landfall on Horn Island, a narrow strip of federally protected land just 12 miles off the Mississippi coast.

Here’s the background. On Sept. 20, a member of my research team conducted a sampling tour on Horn Island (see link to previous post below). Strongbear, a Native American who serves as the managing environmental technician for Boston Chemical Data Corporation, witnessed an ugly scene on the island that assaulted the senses. From my Sept. 23 post:

According to Strongbear, the once white-sand beaches of Horn Island are covered in wide swaths of giant tar balls and gooey tar mats. “It’s a mess,” says Strongbear. “Some of the tar balls are the size of watermelons. When you break them open, you get a very strong smell of oil.”

Strongbear snapped a few photos of the tar mats and balls with his cell phone camera.

The beach samples Strongbear took that day were immediately sent to a highly reputable lab, ALS Environmental, in Edmonton, Canada. We received the certified results Oct. 28, and the data confirmed our worst fears: Fresh, highly toxic Macondo oil is coming ashore – again (see lab report below).

According to civil engineer Marco Kaltofen, another member of my team:

This lab report provides more evidence that the Macondo Prospect is still leaking. The data show that the Horn Island sample taken September 20th contains lighter hydrocarbons that normally degrade quickly. This oil looks like the original BP oil fingerprint from last summer. It’s very fresh and very toxic.

To firm up his case, Mr. Kaltofen compares the Horn Island sample to one taken on Breton Island in late March 2011 (see link to my previous post below). The two samples are nearly chemically identical (see lab documents below). That’s because they are both fresh Macondo oil. In fact, the Horn Island sample – taken six months later – is actually fresher and more toxic than the Breton Island oil.

Before these latest test results were presented, I had concluded that the oil on Horn Island came from the seafloor – stirred up by Tropical Storm Lee. Not because I didn’t think the Macondo Prospect was leaking, but because I didn’t think a large enough volume of oil had been released to make landfall more than 100 miles away. Also in the mix was an Auburn University study released on Sept. 19 (the day before Strongbear took the Horn Island samples) indicating that the oil BP strategically sunk to the seafloor with dispersant wasn’t degrading as quickly as scientists had predicted. From the study:

The data question the validity of the widely held belief that submerged oil from the Deepwater Horizon accident is substantially weathered and thus depleted of most polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

According to Mr. Kaltofen, the data on this latest Horn Island sample show such high levels of toxicity and the presence of even the lightest hydrocarbons – which are the first to break down – that it’s unlikely the oil has been on the seafloor since last year. He explains further:

Oil that has been on the seafloor for months would not contain the lighter hydrocarbons that we see in the data from this recent Horn Island sample. Either this oil was freshly released from the Macondo Prospect, or there is a large offshore deposit of very well-preserved Macondo oil lurking in the deep cold water.

The impact of both scenarios is the same: contaminated water and contaminated shoreline, poisoned marine life and wildlife, and a significant public health risk.

So 15 months after the Macondo Well was capped, we are faced with the unthinkable: Fresh BP oil is coming ashore on a barrier island located only 12 miles from the Mississippi coast. Where are the skimmers? Where’s the boom? Shouldn’t we be doing everything in our power to contain the oil at the source? Not when our federal government won’t even acknowledge there’s a problem.

Here are a few photos showing the area above the Macondo Prospect in August 2011.

Photo credit to On Wings of Care

As you can see, there’s a large amount of oil surfacing near the site where the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank to the seafloor. The “ignore it and hope it goes away” approach embraced by the feds is beyond appalling. And all the while, dolphins (see three entering the slick in the first photo above), sea turtles and a rich array of fisheries that produces roughly 70 percent of the seafood harvested in the continental United States are being poisoned. The lives and livelihoods of our friends and neighbors hang in the balance.

How much more of this bullshit can we take? I’ve about had enough.

Here’s the full lab report on the Sept. 20 Horn Island sample: Horn_Island_Report

Here’s the lab report on the Breton Island sample taken in late March 2011: Breton_Island_Report

Read my previous post on fresh oil coming ashore on Horn Island:

Read my May 10 post on fresh oil found on Breton Island:

See more photos of oil near the Deepwater Horizon site at the On Wings of Care website:

© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – All Rights Reserved


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