Seeping Crud

March 4, 2012

In the midst of a crazed, over-gorged news cycle of  late –  from  weather  to sluts  — a continuing, most-nefarious news story popped up again this week in the announcement of a subdued settlement in just one legal aspect off what’s so-infamously now known as the BP Oil Disaster.

Just as trial was to begin Monday, the supposedly $7.8 billion accord ended just one of a multi-part legal case again BP — and doesn’t include claims still pending from federal, state and local governments along the Gulf, along with possible billions in environmental fines.

One nasty BP not-side note: Apparently, the infamous Macondo well is still seeping oil,  close to two years later — WTF.

(Illustration of Lindsey Carr’s ‘Oiled Scarlet Ibis‘ found here).

Due I guess to that above-mentioned ravenous news cycle — stories are put on the back-burner of importance real quick and sometimes die without a surface trace — so it is with the BP event.
Not much news from that region until last week and the BP settlement.
Life, however, does continue.
The old thought experience ‘If a tree falls in a forest …‘ can be easily transferred to an oil well in the Gulf of Mexico when no one is around — does it still leak?

From the Gulf  oil-tracking group, On Wings of Care, from last Wednesday:

Our first flight over the Gulf since late December 2011, for over two months!
It was great for us to see it again from the air.
But all is not so great with it, unfortunately.

We proceeded to the Macondo prospect (vicinity of the Deepwater Horizon disaster of nearly two years ago).
Since we have not flown the Gulf since late December, and we have seen no reports from other pilots flying this far offshore, we had no idea where to look for oil.
So we decided to return to some of the places where we have been seeing appreciable amounts of surface sheen consistently since last summer.
That proved a good strategy, as we found oil and surface sheen almost immediately.
And plenty of it.
Not plenty like we saw in 2010, no, not that kind of “plenty.”
Reports of enormous quantities of oil continuing to gush from a crater would seem to be quite an exaggeration, judging by what we can see on the water’s surface from the air.
But we do continue to see many lines of what looks like fresh oil, over quite a large area.
Some of it is in the form of a very thin sheen, and some of it appears coagulated into thicker, twisting lines and sheets of sheen.
They continue to be concentrated primarily in a large crescent-shaped area to the east and northeast of the site of the sunken Deepwater Horizon platform.
(That site, by the way, remains quiescent and apparently unoiled on the surface.)
This area of consistent surface oil sightings stretches at least 15-20 nm from south to north, is a few miles wide, and is roughly centered from 5-20 miles east and northeastward of the Deepwater Horizon site.
In short, the surface is oil is still right where we’ve been photographing, videotaping, and describing it to you since last August.

So what’s up with that?
Although not bad, this the money quote: But we do continue to see many lines of what looks like fresh oil, over quite a large area.
Hence lies the rub — fresh oil.

No US news sources has reported this latest development (AP reportedly has, but I couldn’t find it online), but Dahr Jamail with Aljazeera English has a compressive look at this never-ending bullshit.
Snippets from the post on Saturday:

When Al Jazeera flew to the area on September 11, 2011, the oil sheen was approximately 25km long and 10 to 50 metres wide, at a location roughly 19km northeast of the Macondo 252 well.
On the recent over flight, the area covered in oil sheen was approximately 35km long, and ranged from 20 to 100 metres wide in approximately the same location.
At times, fumes from the oil filled the aircraft, even at an altitude of 350 metres.

Edward Overton, professor emeritus at Louisiana State University’s environmental sciences department, examined data from oil samples taken from this area last September and confirmed that the oil is from the Macondo reservoir.
Experts believe the oil is likely to be from a seep in the seabed, but there is debate about what caused the seep, as many believe it may well have been caused by BP’s blowout well and the failed attempts to cap it during spring 2010.

Natural oil seepage in the Gulf of Mexico is a common phenomenon and can cause sheens, but the current oil and sheen is suspect due to its size and location near the Macondo well.
“From what I’ve seen, this new oil and sheen definitely seemed larger than typical natural seepages found in the Gulf of Mexico,” Dr Ira Leifer, a University of California scientist who is an expert on natural hydrocarbon oil and gas emissions from the seabed told Al Jazeera.
“Because of the size and its location, there is a greater concern that should require a larger public investigation.”

New Orleans attorney Stuart Smith, who litigates against major oil companies, believes the burden of proof about where the oil is coming from lies on BP.
“Our worst fears have proven true,” Smith said of the seep.
“We have a chronic leak scenario caused by the Macondo well, and it is time for the feds and BP to come clean and tell the American public the truth.
Unless/until the government and BP explain in a verifiable manner what the source of this oil is, in my opinion any thoughts of settlement are way premature.”

Dr Ian MacDonald, a professor of biological oceanography at Florida State University who uses satellite remote sensing to locate natural oil releases on the ocean surface, confirmed that there are natural seeps in this region of the Gulf of Mexico, but believes more investigation is necessary in order to determine the cause and source of this particular site.

“I don’t understand why we’re seeing so much more oil out there right now than we’ve seen in the past,” MacDonald said.
“We need to dig in and investigate and see what is going on.”
Smith agreed, and took it a step further.
“We demand a National Academy of Science investigation into this seep,” and added, “BP has had six months to come up with evidence to prove they did not cause this seep.
Considering that Al Jazeera and Associated Press have reported this [seep], you’d think BP would produce evidence they did not cause it.”
The possibility that brings the greatest concern is that oil is leaking from the reservoir straight out of the ground.
This situation could be impossible to stop, because the vent would increase in size over time due to the highly pressurised reservoir.

A slow ebb to the end of life as we know it in the Gulf of Mexico.

Correspondingly, this from that On Wings of Care flight last week:

One other observation from today, which we’re sorry to report, has to do with wildlife.
First, pelicans: As we were noticing an apparent diminution of marshland, we also noticed that the offshore islands that seemed to abound as nesting areas in 2010 and even (though to a lesser extent) in 2011 were hard to find.
In fact, there were only a few that had pelicans on them, and these small islands were so crowded with pelicans it was difficult to distinguish the birds from each other!
We definitely got the impression that they are hard up for nesting places.
Second, other marine life: Typically on flights like this, when seas are so calm and skies clear as they were out there today, we see many large pods of dolphin, bait balls of fish, and at least a few turtles.
Today we saw very few fish, four dolphins, and one small sea turtle.
That was with three people whose eyes were glued to the windows, using powerful zoom lenses, and flying at 300′-1000′ above the water.
It seemed almost desolate, compared to what we saw consistently from March through December of last year and the year before.
Here’s hoping that improves as spring arrives.

Hope springs — The BP saga also has a personal touch for me.
I grew up on the Gulf, spending a big portion of my young life on the Florida panhandle, witnessing first hand how really neat the place.
I wrote about my upbringing in a blog piece last September.
If you like, read that post here.

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