Filed Under:  Environmental, Gulf Coast, Local, News

Sheen near Macondo well comes from same source as BP spill

15th October 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Zoe Sullivan
Contributing Writer

Environmentalists and fisher folk have insisted that the BP disaster is not over. A sheen has was spotted in mid-September near the location of the Macondo well, roughly 50 miles off of Louisiana’s coast. On October 9, the Coast Guard confirmed this sheen consists of oil from that source and the Federal On-Scene Coordinator for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill issued a Notice of Federal Interest (NOFI) to BP and Transocean. According to a press release from the Coast Guard, BP reported the sheen to federal authorities on September 16. The same statement explains that the NOFI notice “informs BP and Transocean that the Coast Guard matched the sheen samples to the Deepwater Horizon spill or sunken drilling debris and that either party or both may be held accountable for any cost associated with further assessments or operations related to this sheen.”

For Clint Guidry, President of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, told The Louisiana Weekly in a phone interview that this is not the first time sheens have been found since the Macondo well was capped in July 2010. “It even amazed me that they tested it to say that it’s BP oil,” Guidry said, speculating that the Notice is coming because of government’s efforts to resolve the lawsuits surrounding the disaster. “The federal government is in intense negotiations, otherwise we probably wouldn’t hear about this,” he explained.

Just days after Hurricane Isaac, the Department of Justice filed a fiery brief with the Federal District Court in New Orleans charged with hearing the BP case. The memo used emails between BP employees to demonstrate “a culture of corporate recklessness” that, according to the memo, led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Some speculated that this brief was an effort to ratchet up pressure on BP during settlement negotiations.

The Wall Street Journal reported on October 10th that the Federal Government and BP are close to reaching a settlement deal. Other sources have reported concern among Gulf Coast politicians that this deal will put the bulk of the settlement funds into federal hands instead of bringing the compensation to the states most affected by the disaster. Two laws that are being used to determine the fines are the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) of 1991, which was passed in the wake of the Exxon Valdez catastrophe, and the Clean Water Act.

The Wall Street Journal article names Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu as one of the officials expressing these concerns over local control. She is reported to have reservations about using the OPA “because it wouldn’t give states and local governments as much control over the funds.” The state’s other Senator, David Vitter, on the other hand, is named as a supporter of the OPA option because of its emphasis on environmental damage.

BP responded to The Louisiana Weekly’s inquiry about the sheen with a prepared statement stressing the firm’s collaboration with the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The statement also underscores the possibility that the oil is not coming from the Macondo well itself. It says that BP’s analysis shows “a correlation with Macondo source oil but also indicate the presence of alpha-olefins, a compound found in the drilling mud but not in the source oil. This strongly suggests the oil is emanating from the debris from the Deepwater Horizon accident.”

The Coast Guard’s Notice of Federal Interest press release also suggests that the oil could originate with the wreckage, but Guidry, says that after over 2 years, he finds this unlikely. Oceanographer Ian MacDonald of Florida State University cautioned the Washington Post that it is too early “to rule out that this is oil freshly released from the reservoir.”

The press release states that the sheen is located roughly 50 miles from the Louisiana coast, and that it “is not feasible to recover and does not pose a risk to the shoreline.”

“They tend to forget that the Gulf of Mexico is part of our marine ecosystem, and even though it’s not washing up on Biloxi Beach, it means a lot to the environment. It means a lot to the Fishermen,” Guidry told The Louisiana Weekly.

According to his website, Stuart H. Smith is “an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.” Smith has been blogging regularly about the BP disaster and its aftermath. He called on the Coast Guard to release all the video footage taken of the area surrounding the well by Remote Operated Vehicles (ROV).

“It’s telling that neither BP nor the coast guard are denying that the oil is leaching out of the sea floor as a result of the plugging of the well,” Smith told The Louisiana Weekly. He explained that the formation that includes the well is unstable, and added that this isn’t the first time oil found in the Gulf has been matched to the Macondo well. “It’s just the first time that the Feds have acknowledged this.”

BP’s press release asserts that the integrity of the well was established in September in ROV studies carried out while federal authorities observed.

Environmental advocacy group, the Gulf Restoration Network, slammed official statements. “It’s ridiculous that today’s announcements from government and BP downplay the threat. Oil in the water harms whales, blue-fin tuna, and many other species, and it’s unacceptable,” said Deputy Director Aaron Viles. “The Coast Guard seems to be willing to let BP off the hook,” he also affirmed, pointing out that “BP has only actually spent seven percent of their promised $1 billion for early restoration.”

This article was originally published in the October 15, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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