Surfrider Foundation

Not the Answer


September 2nd, 2011

New Oil in the Gulf – What’s Going On?

There have been several recent reports of oil slicks/oil sheen in the general vicinity of BP’s Macondo well which was the site of the disasterous Deepwater Horizon well blowout that released about 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexixo last year.

First, on August 24 there was a article published in the Alabama Live blog (Mobile Press Register) by Ben Raines which read, in part:

“Floating in a boat near the well site, Press-Register reporters watched blobs of oil rise to the surface and bloom into iridescent yellow patches. Those patches quickly expanded into rainbow sheens 4 to 5 feet across. Each expanding bloom released a pronounced and pungent petroleum smell. Most of the oil was located in a patch about 50 yards wide and a quarter of a mile long. The source of the oil was unclear, but a chemical analysis by Louisiana State University scientists confirmed that it was a sweet Louisiana crude, and could possibly be from BP PLC’s well. The oil could be flowing from a natural seep on the seafloor near the wellhead, experts said. Other possibilities include oil trapped within the wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, or oil deposited on the bottom during the spill that is slowly working its way to the surface. The most troubling possibility, according to petroleum engineers, is that oil is leaking up through the seafloor surrounding the sealed well pipe.”

Then, on August 31 John Amos wrote in his blog:

“Bonny Schumaker from On Wings of Care has been very busy flying the Gulf lately.  Yesterday she flew out over the site of the BP / Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  About 16 miles northeast of the spill site, she ran across extensive oil slicks that look to us like a lot more than the typical natural oil seep normally produces.  Check out her report with a photo gallery and video.  There is a known seep location less than 2 miles to the south.  The nearest oil platform is 8 miles to the east; the closest pipeline is >5 miles to the northeast.  MODIS satellite images taken yesterday afternoon showed nothing unusual in the area, and the most recent radar image for the site was taken back on August 26.  We’ll keep looking and let you know what we learn.”

Yesterday several news reports continued to reference the photos and video of a large oil slick, but an article by Mark Schleifstein published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune stated:

“The U.S. Coast Guard says new oil spotted 16 miles northeast of the shut-in BP Macondo well is too dispersed to be recovered.”

The article goes on to reference the analysis of oil by Louisiana State University mentioned above and quotes a BP representative: “It very well could be from natural seeps. What we are saying for sure is that it is not from our well head.”

So, the mystery continues.  What is clear is that there is a large but somewhat dispersed oil slick/sheen in the general area of BP’s shut-in Macondo well.  Although the source has not been determined, it is clear that the dense maze of offshore oil wells and pipelines in the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico (including 27,000 abandoned wells!) represents a continual liability to commercial and recreational activities in the Gulf as well as the health of the entire Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.  Proposed additional offshore drilling at ever deeper depths further threatens the health and welfare of the region.



Posted by Surfrider Foundation at 7:01 pm

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