As I noted last year, the seafloor under BP's leaking Gulf oil well cracked, and could leak for years. Successful New Orleans attorney Stuart Smith - lead counsel in a lawsuit that resulted in a $1.056 billion dollar verdict against ExxonMobil for contaminating land and attempting to cover it up - says that it is leaking again.
No, this isn't a post from last year. Oil from the Macondo Well site is fouling the Gulf anew - and BP is scrambling to contain both the crude and the PR nightmare that waits in the wings. Reliable sources tell us that BP has hired 40 boats from Venice to Grand Isle to lay boom around the Deepwater Horizon site - located just 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. The fleet rushed to the scene late last week and worked through the weekend to contain what was becoming a massive slick at the site of the Macondo wellhead, which was officially "killed" back in September 2010.
The truly frightening part of this development, as reported in a previous post (see below), is the oil may be coming from cracks and fissures in the seafloor caused by the work BP did during its failed attempts to cap the runaway Macondo Well - and that type of leakage can't be stopped, ever.
Catch up on how this could possibly be happening - again - by reading or re-reading my July 25 post below. Stay tuned as we will be all over this story as it continues to develop.
Is BP's Macondo Well Site Still Leaking? Fresh Oil on the Gulf Raises Concerns and Haunting Memories
Fresh oil is surfacing all over the northern quadrant of the Gulf of Mexico. Reports of slicks that meander for miles and huge expanses of oil sheen that look like phantom islands are becoming common, again. Fresh oil, only slightly weathered, is washing ashore in areas hit hardest by last year's massive spill, like Breton Island, Ship Island, the Chandeleurs and northern Barataria Bay. BP has reactivated its Vessels of Opportunity (VoO) program to handle cleanup. It's a sickeningly familiar scene that has fishermen, researchers and public officials searching for answers, as haunting memories of last year's calamity come roaring back.
The fifty-thousand-dollar question, of course, is where is all the new oil coming from?
One theory: The Macondo Well site, located just 40 miles off the Louisiana coast, is still leaking untold amounts of oil into the Gulf. Some argue that the casing on the capped well itself is leaking. Others believe oil is seeping through cracks and fissures in the seafloor caused by months of high-impact work on the site, including a range of recovery activities (some disclosed, some not) as well as the abortive "top kill" effort.
In January 2011, a prominent "geohazards specialist" wrote an urgent letter to two members of Congress - U.S. Reps. Fred Upton, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and John Shimkus, chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment and Economy - suggesting that the Macondo site is leaking oil like a sieve. Here's an excerpt from that letter (see it in its entirety at link below):
There is no question that the oil seepages, gas columns, fissures and blowout craters in the seafloor around the Macondo wellhead... have been the direct result of indiscriminate drilling, grouting, injection of dispersant and other undisclosed recover activities. As the rogue well had not been successfully cemented and plugged at the base of the well by the relief wells, unknown quantities of hydrocarbons are still leaking out from the reservoir at high pressure and are seeping through multiple fault lines to the seabed. It is not possible to cap this oil leakage.
BK Lim, the letter's author, has more than 30 years of experience working inside the oil and gas industry for companies like Shell, Petronas and Pearl Oil.
More from Mr. Lim's letter:
The continuing hydrocarbon seepage would have long term, irreversible and potentially dire consequences in the GOM (Gulf of Mexico)...
The letter is dated Jan. 14, 2011 - and we've been seeing more and more evidence that the scenario Mr. Lim describes is indeed taking place deep below the Gulf's surface.
For example, on March 28, 2011, Paul Orr and his team from the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper - an organization I've worked with frequently over the course of the last year - conducted a 50-mile boat patrol and sampling tour of Breton Sound, which lies just off the southeast coast of Louisiana. The excursion was prompted by multiple, increasingly frantic, reports of oil in the area by fishermen and others, including On Wings of Care pilot Bonny Schumaker, who has dozens of Gulf flyovers under her belt.
Mr. Orr took a sample from the southern end of Breton Island National Park -and sure enough, lab-certified tests results established a fingerprint match to BP's Macondo Well (see link to my previous post and test results below).
The most alarming part of the finding was not simply that the Breton Island sample had BP's fingerprint on it, but that the test results were nearly identical to those from the fresh oil seen in the early days of the BP spill - instead of the heavily weathered and degraded oil we've come to expect in recent weeks and months.
Those test results seem to disprove the other theory surrounding this spate of recent "fresh oil" reports. That is: All the oil BP strategically sunk to the seafloor with nearly 2 million gallons of toxic dispersant is beginning to break free and rise to the surface en masse, and in turn, blacken the coastline with fresh oil. According to civil engineer and petroleum expert, Marco Kaltofen, oil that has been lying on the seafloor for several months would be much significantly more weathered than the fresh oil we're seeing more and more of.
As you'll notice from the histograms, the Breton Island sample mirrors the submerged oil sampled from Pensacola Bay on Nov. 5, 2010 (see link to original post with histograms below) and a sample taken from Panama City Beach on July 14, 2010. You don't have to be a marine biologist to see that this is the same oil with nearly identical weathering.
So we had fresh oil with BP's signature on it coming ashore in March - more than eight months after the Macondo Well was capped. And since then, members of my team and other researchers have reported fresh oil, of the "only slightly weathered" variety from Grand Isle to Pensacola. One charter boat fishing captain, who frequents the waters around Louisiana's barrier islands, is describing the current, hauntingly familiar situation on the Gulf as the "second wave" of the BP disaster.
Read my entire July 25 post (with referenced documents) here.