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2013 January 20, Sunday
Gulf of Mexico - Offshore Louisiana, from the Chandeleurs to the Macondo 

Everywhere you go along the Gulf Coast, there is awesome natural beauty. Viewed from above, rivers and bayous rule the land mass. Thousands of birds, including huge groups of brown and white pelicans, live and raise their young in the wetlands that separate the Gulf of Mexico from noisy humanity. As beautiful and impressive as the New Orleans skyline and the mighty Mississippi River and its barges and ships are, there is no thrill like flying beyond them, across these grasslands to the open sea.

We fly offshore to find wildlife and to document oil spills and pollution events that threaten the lives of all marine and coastal life. These problems seem to get overlooked to a large degree by humanity, or at least by those with the power to correct the problems. It is a labor of love for us, and it takes every extra penny we have to do it. But the alternative is that fewer people will know of the damage being done and therefore it is less likely to be stopped and corrected. That seems to us an unaffordable shame. We hope that by our sharing what we see with you, you will lend your wisdom and power to help turn the wheels needed to correct these issues.

Since the weather today was spectacular, 100-mile air visibility and seas calmer than we've seen for months, we made a quick decision to go, even though we had no arrangements to fund this flight. Experience has proven that one flight under the right conditions is worth many when weather and lighting are not optimum. One pilot, one photographer, four eyes and unlimited enthusiasm made for great success. We kept close to our plan to check out the surface oil slick in MC253, which we first documented early last fall.  It is within a mile of the site of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 April, and although neither BP nor the US Coast Guard seem to have any idea of its source or cause, it is causing a very sizable surface oil slick, rivaling the chronic Taylor Energy slick off the southern coast of Louisiana in its size.  A photo of it is on the left below, with the ENSCO 8502 drilling rig about two miles away. (ENSCO 8502 is a deepwater semi-submersible drilling rig built in 2010 and currently leased by LLOG from Nexen Petroleum for $0.5M/day.  It is being used to drill and test up to five wells in the Gulf at about three months per well; activity seen there today suggests flaring is beginning and that they may be completing operations here.)  

For comparison, the photo on the right below is the chronic oil pollution site we refer to as "Taylor Energy", named after the owners of the defunct platform destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 along with many broken pipelines which continue to spill fresh and weathered oil into the Gulf at an astonishingly large, continuous flux rate. This nightmare persists barely 12 miles off the southern tip of Louisiana, in "green water" not even a third of a mile deep.

 

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_BLD9329

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many more photos and details are given below on these two persistent oil pollution sites. We also documented three other sites with significant amounts of surface oil sheen (and of course filed NRC incident reports for these as well):  one that comprised two adjacent slicks in Black Bay off the east coast of Louisiana, one south of the Macondo near a known natural seep in lease block MC294, and one about 15 miles northwest of the Macondo, which also could be from a natural seep, since there were no obvious sources such as platforms or pipelines in the vicinity.

We returned to New Orleans by way of the exquisite Chandeleur Islands -- or rather, what is left of them. How they have changed just in the past two years! For all the damage and changes caused by mankind, it is obvious from the air that storms have also been changing offshore Louisiana markedly. The amount of land surface in the fragile and exquistely beautiful Chandeleur Islands appears to have dropped by 30-50% since the summer of 2010. So has the number of nesting seabirds, and those birds who remain are crowded together very closely. The seas were amazingly calm today.  The waters from the Chandeleurs westward toward the mainland were mirror smooth and gave a haunting appearance as the sun dropped toward the horizon. 

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Last but not least, we reveled in watching white and brown pelicans all over the wetlands and coastal marshes.  We have lots of great photos to share with you of those -- like these:

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Photos and full descriptions are given below including our Flight Log with descriptions and GPS coordinates for all that we saw. The GPS file of our flight tracks can be downloaded here (or at the main menu item "Flight Tracks" on this website).  We've saved the best photos for last -- the Chandeleurs, and photos of wildlife. Alas, today, we saw little marine life, only an occasional dolphin around the Chandeleurs.  But oh the birds!  Enjoy!

In the photo galleries below, you may click on any photo to see it enlarged.  And as always, if you would like to use any of our photos to benefit the Gulf of Mexico, we will be happy to provide you with high-resolution versions of them. Contact us by email at:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Here are maps showing our flight route:


Here are the first two slicks we noticed in Black Bay on our way southward from New Orleans. (See Flight Log below for more descriptions and exact positions, which you can then find on the maps above.)


Here is the Taylor Energy site:


On our way from Taylor to the Macond area, we encountered a large orange vessel that resembled others we've seen in the past (such as the Helix vessels).  It was traveling northwestward at a good pace.  A pipe-laying vessel, perhaps? It is called Deep Blue.


Here is a small slick we noticed a bit south of the Macondo, near the location of a known natural seep area in MC294:


Here is the large surface slick that has been sitting over the Macondo area since last autumn, with as yet no explanation from BP or the US Coast Guard as to its origin. Its persistence, even after the weeks of rough weather we have had in recent weeks and months, suggests that its flow is substantial. Scientists who have sampled it have found evidence of manmade products such as drilling mud. If indeed it is coming from wreckage, it is a mystery as to why it is only now surfacing, and its "lifetime" should be limited. Let us hope so!

Here is the ENSCO 8502 rig located in MC253, also shown in the photos of the oil slick above:


Here is a small crescent-shaped surface slick we found about 15 miles northwest of the Macondo area, on our way back to the mainland.


Along the way, we came upon this vessel, the New Venture, towing what appear to be three seismic instruments:


And here we come to the beautiful Chandeleur Islands -- or what remains of these delicate, exquisite islands:


The waters westward from the Chandeleurs were mirror-smooth.  Check out this boat's wake, and the sky to the west as the sun dropped toward the horizon:


Last but definitely not least, here are just a few of the glorious avian sites we beheld! Large groups of white pelicans, ducks on the water, and myriad other species enjoying the wetlands and the shallows. The natural pilots of the world, the true experts of flying. And for me, always a reminder of my ever special friend, Pellie Lou.

 

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On Wings Of Care Flight Log for 20130120 - Sunday
Overflight of Gulf of Mexico Taylor Energy & MC252 areas

All waypoint numbers below refer to the GPS tracks shown in today’s article at OnWingsOfCare.org.

Times are given in CDT. 
Lat/lons are given in degrees and decimal minutes.

Personnel: Dr. Bonny Schumaker with Billy Dugger (photographer)
Seas and weather:  Seas1-2 ft, winds ~5-8 kts from the northwest.

Sky & Visibility: Perfect -- clear, 50+ mile visibility

Flight time: 3.0 hours

Flight route: KNEW - Taylor Energy & vicinity- MC252 & vicinity - Chandeleur Islands - KNEW

Maps of our route showing the following waypoints identified during our flight, plus some relevant waypoints from previous flights, are in  today’s article(including a link to our GPS track file and a Google Earth file).

 

Short summary:

Gulf flyover by On Wings Of Care to follow up on observations of these two chronic areas of anthropogenic oil slicks since our last two flights, January 04 and 07.  (Note the January 07 flight was not blogged, only the January 04 flight was.)  We first checked the chronic Taylor Energy slick off the southern tip of Louisiana, then the MC252 area.  Taylor is flowing like always.  What was surprising was that the Macondo slick is just as large as when we first saw it last fall.  It rivals the Taylor slick in spatial extent now, but it doesn’t show as much rainbow (though it shows some) and doesn’t seemt o have patches of highly weathered brownish-red stuff, which Taylor does.  We returned to New Orleans via the Chandeleur Islands -- which have diminished in size by over 50% since the summer of 2010.  They were beautiful today, and the waters on the coastal side were mirror-smooth, and less than 1-ft seas on the sea-side of the islands.  

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20130120 -  Waypoints of Interest

KNEW - Lakefront Airport

-- Southeastward across Black Bay

-- 0449 (Taylor Energy)

-- ADIZ:  ~N28 53  W088 33 or ~ 90 nm southeast (~135°) from KNEW

-- MC252 and vicinity
......

KNEW

ADIZ crossing:  ~N28°55’, W088°52’ (KNEW - ~90 nm, ~135°).
Destination (for DVFR flight plan):  MC252 (KNEW ~120 nm ~130°)

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Southeastward from KNEW, across Black Bay: 
Many groups of white pelicans!

0461. N29 29.620 W89 28.499   1403 CST.
Small oil slick, ~ 10 m x 100 m long.

 

(NRC-1, #1036175) **0462. N29 29.636 W89 26.979  1403 CST.
Small oil slick, ~ 20 m X 150 m long.
**(The above two sightings -- 0461 and 0462 -- were submitted as a single NRC incident report.  Photos _BLD9309, _BLD9310, _BLD9311.)

(NRC-2, #1036176) **0449.  N28 54.552 W88 59.451 1427 CST.
Taylor Energy slick. As big as always today, clearly visible in the calm seas and excellent visibility.  ~300-400 m wide (NW-SE), ~2 nm long (SW-NE, approximately 035°).  Another narrow finger stretches at least 2 nm to the southwest.  Metallic gray with rainbow sheen interspersed and some deep reddish-brown weathered oil in places.
(The above was submitted as a single NRC incident report, #_________.  Photos _BLD9327--9364.)

 

0463. N28 40.102 W88 33.795  1451 CST.
Vessel - “Deep Blue”.  Laying pipe?  Proceeding northwestward.  Located ~5 nm W-SW of MC292, ~15 nm southwest of MC252.  (Photos _BLD9373-9383.)

 

(NRC-3, #1036178) **0464. N28 40.750 W88 28.729  1454 CST.
Natural seep?  Small crescent line of oil, just south of MC294.
(The above was submitted as a single NRC incident report, #_________. Photos _BLD9384--9389.)

04401. N28 35.365 W88 19.160 (previous waypoint, from 20121202)
Large mobile drillship  (ENSCO DS-3). 

0441.  N28 31.099 W88 17.216
(previous waypoint, from 20121202)
Platform MC474A (BP), approximately 12 nm south of the ENSCO 8502.

 

(NRC-4, #1036177) **0465. N28 42.004 W88 19.523  1501 CST.
Looking northeastward, we see the slick extending southeastward from the ENSCO 8502 rig (~150°).

It extends at least 2 nm in the NW-SE direction.  It is almost 1 nm wide at its NW end (nearer the rig) and tapers to about 0.25 nm wide at its SE end. Metallic-gray streamers, otherwise light sheen, fairly uniform color.
(The above was submitted as a single NRC incident report, at the location of the ENSCO rig, #0466 above.  Photos _BLD9405--9440, _BLD9456--9471.)

0466. N28 44.702 W88 21.573  1509 CST.
This is exactly over the ENSCO 8502 rig. (Photos _BLD9441--9455.)

 

(NRC-5, #1036179) **0467. N28 55.846 W88 31.061  1516 CST.
Middle of a small crescent-shaped slick, maybe 200 m long and no wider than ~50 m.
(The above was submitted as a single NRC incident report. Photos _BLD9472--9483.)

0468. N29 17.912 W88 46.765  1533 CST.
Ship towing three of what look like seismic/sonar buoys. “Fairfield - NEW VENTURE”. 
Photos _BLD9484--9505.

 

0459.  N29 25.890 W89 13.587  (20130107 - 1116 CST).
Small oil slick - two small oval shapes, heavy rainbow sheen.  Sighting from 0107 flight, mistakenly not reported to NRC at that time. 
(The above was NOT submitted to the NRC, due to our tardiness in reporting it.  No photos of it today.)

 

 

CHANDELEUR ISLANDS: Photos _BLD9506--9572.

Lake Borgne: 
1)  Boat and wake:  Photos _BLD9573--9579.
2) Toward sunset:  _BLD9580--9595.