2015 April 26
Coastal waters of Louisiana
Gulf of Mexico
by Bonny L. Schumaker, Ph.D.1
Why have we tolerated a continuous major oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico for over a decade?
-- The Findings of Taylor Energy and Failures of the U.S. Coast Guard
Introduction and Summary
The mistakes, and what is at stake
Hurricane Ivan and the Central Planning Area
Decades of carelessness
Amount of Material: Careless reporting or deliberate deception?
What to do
INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY
Ten miles offshore from the tip of Louisiana, in water less than 500 feet deep, lies a grim reminder that while nature gives to man freely, carelessness injures both man and nature. Almost every day for the past decade, enough crude oil has leaked from the damaged seafloor here to render at least five hundred million gallons of sea water toxic to life. That’s enough poisoned water to fill 150 football fields to one-foot depth, every day. These deadly waters cannot be contained and do not remain stationary. They follow currents and tidelines, like deadly predators silently stalking the marine life that they poison and will ultimately kill.
Crude oil is so potent that even a minute concentration of one part per million can severely sicken or kill life. Its most toxic components, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), can persist in seawater for many years. They destroy red blood cells, alter liver metabolism, damage gland tissue, and interrupt the cellular pathways that control the beating of hearts. Ingestion causes cancer, DNA damage, and multi-generational birth defects. On contact, crude oil burns skin and dissolves easily into tissue. It suffocates fish by causing a mucus film to form over their bodies and gills, and it smothers benthic invertebrates such as oysters.
In one pernicious way or another, crude oil causes premature and painful death to all life it touches. Not just when it first appears, and not even just linearly with exposure time, but exponentially. After long enough continued exposure, there are no longer enough healthy individuals to regenerate, and the local species of marine life disappear.
The photos below were taken on the 18th of June, 2014, almost a year ago. Note the sampling boat with scientists aboard, in the middle of the photo. They are surrounded by what OWOC estimated to be about 850 acres of sheen with 30% coverage, exhibiting most of the “colors” of sheen that we have seen in the Gulf of Mexico: silvery, rainbow, metallic, transitional dark, as well as streamers of emulsion. OWOC estimated the amount of oil to be at least 200 gallons. The same day, Taylor reported the amount of material associated with this sheen to be 0.34 gallons — about five cups. The scientists in the boat felt sick from the fumes; but afterward, we all felt sick to think that the Coast Guard would believe that all of that oil amounted to one-third of a gallon. (Photos courtesy of OnWingsOfCare.org and Oscar Pineda-Garcia.)
See all the photos, read the article, and download or look at all the references here!
Today marked our 60th flyover since July of 2011 of this tragic ongoing pollution site that has been pouring oil and gas into the shallow coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico barely 10 miles from Louisiana’s marshes and wetlands. The site is commonly referred to as the “Taylor Energy” slick, for the company whose oil production platform was toppled in a mudslide caused by Hurricane Ivan in September of 2004. That mudslide buried more than 25 associated pipelines under at least 100 feet of mud, and the seafloor has been weeping oil and gas ever since. For more than ten years running, here in the Mississippi Canyon Lease Block 20 (“MC20”), oil and gas have been bubbling up to the surface from 500 ft below and spreading out in sickening tentacles as long as 15 miles, in directions that change depending on sea currents.
This flight was scheduled deliberately to coincide with overpasses by the radar imaging satellite RadarSat2 as well as NOAA and NASA visible satellites EO-1 and ASTER. On board with us was colleague Dr. Oscar Garcia from Florida State University, who is a scientific expert in the use of remote sensing to characterize marine oil slicks and also a seasoned authority on recent pollution at this site.
In the photos and video, you'll see the sheen at MC20, of course, and the unusual and dramatic large patterns of turbidity. You'll also see the brave and highly endangered community of Delacroix, one of the very last communities to hang on to its survival as the wetlands vanish from around it. Each time we fly, we see the waters rising and the land disappearing from around this once thriving bayou community. It is chilling to watch this unfortunate history in the making.
But maybe there's a little good news, too. We did finally see roseate spoonbills over the wetlands! Only a few of them, but the first family of these beautiful birds that we've seen since late in 2010. May they find what they need and return to Louisiana!
Read the full article and see all of the photos and videos here.
(And stay tuned here for another article to be published soon, which describes the history of this MC20 pollution site, including actions taken to date by the US Coast Guard (USCG), Taylor Energy, and others to try to contain and arrest the pollution, and the controversial assessments to date of just how much oil and gas has been and still is pouring into these coastal waters.)
2014 August 14 Thursday
Mississippi Canyon, Gulf of Mexico
After yesterday's exciting find of a huge aggregation of whale sharks in the Ewing Bank area, we couldn't help hoping for similar success in the Mississippi Canyon, the area more due south-southeast of New Orleans and closer to the scene of 2010's Deepwater Horizon disaster. We haven't found whale sharks here yet this summer, but in years past we did find them, so we remained hopeful. Well, we didn't find any today. But we did find two large pods of short-finned pilot whales, and one gorgeous huge long sperm whale. The water was beautiful, blue and calm, so we can say for sure that had there been whale sharks surface-feeding in the area during our five or so hours there, we would have seen them. Any day in the Gulf when we find whales and dolphins and turtles is a great day, since we have been seeing so few in this area in the past couple of years!
Here are a few of our favorite photos from today, which includes some of the always-extraordinary wetlands of Louisiana and the interesting platforms out there:
Read the full article and see all the photos and more, here!
2014 September 08 Monday
Gulf of Mexico, 12 miles off the tip of Louisiana
The chronic oil leak known as the “Taylor Energy slick”
As part of our non-profit mission, which includes the protection of wildlife and natural ecosystems as well as humanitarian work, we continue to make regular flyovers of the Gulf of Mexico, its northern barrier islands, and the wetlands associated with the five Gulf Coast states. With photos, videos, and detailed flight logs, OWOC documents wildlife, sargassum, and significant oil or gas pollution incidents and shares this information with the public and with government agencies such as NOAA, NMFS, and the US Coast Guard.
Today’s flight had a very specific mission: to photograph and video the chronic ten-year-running oil leak into the Gulf known as the “Taylor Energy” slick located about 10-12 miles off the tip of Louisiana. It is the result of damage during Hurricane Ivan in 2004, during which a platform and tens of pipelines were destroyed. Exacerbated by mud flows and subsequent storms, the continuing steady leakage of oil from the seafloor is now deemed impossible to mitigate.
For several years now, we've been reporting regularly on the Taylor slick, but in the past year we've also been supporting scientific studies by flying it at precisely the same times that observation satellites are passing overhead. Our coincident low-altitude (500’-1000’ MSL) flights help scientists understand how to use satellite data to identify and characterize surface pollution incidents — spatial extent, thicknesses of surface slicks, even age and degree of weathering of crude oil, etc.
Today, the Earth-orbiting Terra satellite (launched in 1999 by NASA) would be aiming the Japanese sensor known as ASTER (or Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer) at this area around noon local time. ASTER gives images with resolution of several tens of meters at more than 10 different wavelengths ranging from the visible (about 0.5 micron) to thermal infrared (about 11 microns) and is used to make maps of surface temperatures, reflectances, and other properties.
We followed a heavy line of rainbow sheen from its abrupt starting points southwestward along a winding line that stretched about 13-15 nm (nautical miles) and was typically not wider than about 50-100 meters (m). We took photographs as we flew southwestward with the slick to our left (approximately east of us ), and we took video as we flew northeastward with the slick to our left (approximately west of us). We haven’t included all of the photos here, but the order of these photos still reflects our steady progression along the slick, as does the video (taken in the reverse direction, northeastward back to the starting point of the slick).
Here are a few of those photos and a video. Notice the abrupt start of the line of rainbow sheen in the very first photograph; this is at the northeast end of the long line which we photographed and videotaped today. More photos are in the galleries below the video. At the end of this article is today’s flight log.
See all the photos and videos and read more here!