Gulf of Mexico, off of Louisiana
Since our flight last Friday August 19 where we documented surface oil and globules near the site of the Deepwater Horizon Macondo well explosion in April 2010, others have taken boats out to the positions we recorded. They saw, smelled, and sampled just what we had seen. Scientists at Louisiana State University analyzed and pronounced it to be Louisiana "sweet crude" -- common jargon that belies its foul intrusion into the habitat of local whales, dolphins, sharks and other marine life. But both BP and the US Coast Guard say they have sent surface vessels, submersibles (ROVs), and aircraft out there continuously since our report last week. They report that they have seen nothing, that "there is no scientific evidence" of any oil in the Macondo Prospect. Are they flying and sailing with eyes and nose closed?
We are not trying to dramatize here. Certainly the sheens and globules we've documented are not as expansive as what we documented all last summer. But isn't oil that shows up over large areas on the surface of water that is several thousand feet deep more than a minor seep? Grant us the right to a bit of distrust and caution, for where there is this, could there not soon be a bigger fissure or crack to come? And with hurricane season upon us, are we not prudent to ask for all precautions possible at this time?
This is more editorializing than we usually allow ourselves here. On to the facts and photos and videos from two flights made Thursday and Friday, August 25 and 26. Both days had rough seas and below-average sky and water visibilities; Friday August 26 was particularly bad. Storms since last Friday August 19 had definitely changed things, but as you'll see below, we had little trouble finding surface oil sheen and floating globules again around the Macondo site.
Thursday August 25:
To the Thunderhorse PDQ rig, the Macondo site, and back to New Orleans along the eastern coastline.
Friday August 26:
To the Macondo site to guide a private vessel to obtain oil samples.
Thursday's flight was a long one, in order to check out the giant "Thunderhorse PDQ" BP-ExxonMobil platform (Production and Drilling, with crew Quarters) that sits well over 100 miles from nearest land in over 6000' of water. News reports and satellite images had shown large areas of sheen in this area last week. Enroute there we saw many large tankers and oil rigs and large supply vessels. At the Macondo site we again found sheen and globules. And on the way home we were surprised to find a very large area of thick sheen in the wetlands area northeast of Venice! Photos and details below.
Friday's flight was made in order to direct a boat with scientists and oil sampling equipment to the oil we've been seeing out at the Macondo well for the past week. Even though Friday's flight had no photographers or spotters on board, we had no problem finding the oil even with the rough seas and very poor flight visibility -- it was harder to see the boat than it was to spot the oil! All we had was an inexpensive point-and-shoot digital camera, but you'll see what we saw well enough. Photos and details below.
Remember that you can download all of our aircraft GPS flight tracks with all metadata for waypoints. Just go to the main menu item "Flight Tracks" and download the flight files you want.
Thursday 2011 August 25
(See flight log transcribed below for details of gps waypoint numbers, lat/longs, and objects seen.)
Many thanks to Gulf Restoration Network photographer Jonathan Henderson for flying with us again today and sharing his photos! We'll post the link to all of his photos as soon as he gets them up.
Flying toward Port Fourchon we saw several shrimpers, all with their nets down. We didn't have to go more than 50 nm offshore to find some very large tankers -- registered in the Bahamas, Singapore, and Malaysia. The Bahamas-registered one had large bold lettering just below their bridge: "SAFETY FIRST".
NOTE: Unless noted, no photos or video provided by On Wings Of Care are "photoshopped" or otherwise altered in any way that could degrade accurate interpretation of what we observed.
Aside from some lines of old sargassum south of this area, and several wide (~150 meters) west-to-east lines of sheen in the vicinity of the Thunder Horse area (gps #9133 below -- sorry, these photos did not come out well), all we saw from here to ThunderHorse area and then northeastward until halfway back to the Macondo well were more platforms and tankers and supply vessels! Here is a gallery of representative objects from that part of the flight (gps waypoints 9129--9137).
But now things picked up, for we saw sperm whales! At first they were about 50 meters apart, but we watched them come together and realized we were looking at what appeared to be a mom and good-sized calf. A playful young one, too, going from one side of mom to the other, about one-third her length. That raised our spirits some. It just seems worth it to fly hundreds of miles over water to see these magnificent creatures. The tankers and platforms? Not so much.
Okay, fun was over, it was back to platforms, tankers, and supply vessels all the way to the Macondo -- where we did find oil again! But first, here are photos of these steel monsters.
OIL! Again. Despite the rough seas and misty air, we found the sheen and the globules pretty easily. The patches were not as expansive as a week ago; clearly the intervening storms and rough seas had changed and moved things quite a bit. The globules seemed less big around and less deep; in fact, it appeared to be more of a surface phenomena than it had on our August 19 flight. But here are some photos of what we saw, all taken around 3pm (CDT) Thursday, gps waypoints 9143-9145. We reported this to the US Coast Guard on Thursday evening (incident report #987286), and when they telephoned back to follow up, we emailed them all of the gps coordinates and all of these photos.
AND MORE OIL -- on our shores now? Well, this was not a pretty surprise. We were so happy to see the Louisiana wetlands in front of us again, we had just passed Venice marina on our left. And what was that big ugly rainbow blob? We had no idea. Of course we reported this to the US Coast Guard as well, same incident report (#987286), and emailed them these photos as well. It was not there when we flew again on Friday. Who knows?
The flight logs for both days, August 25 and 26, are appended at the very bottom of this article.
Friday 2011 August 26
(See flight log transcribed below for details of gps waypoint numbers, lat/longs, and objects seen.)
This "quick run" out to the Macondo site -- to help the sampling boat find oil to take back to their labs for analysis -- brought very rough seas and extremely poor visibility. We were also unable to find photographers or spotters to join, so I was pretty nervous at the start that all the expense of the boat going out there could be for naught if I couldn't find the oil that no doubt had been moved all over the place in this weather. And if I did find it, who would believe what they might be able to see with me holding my $100 point-and-shoot camera while maneuvering the airplane? Luck was with us, however. As I was about to start the plane, I saw a fellow instructor pilot land, waved him over and he said "Sure, I'll come along!" Now with two pairs of eyes, we headed off.
Not even past the bird's foot Delta, we saw lots of streamers of organic material, and more of those sheets of dark reddish-brown stuff everywhere. Shrimpers in the midst of some of it -- eek, do they know what's around them? (gps waypoint #9147).
The sampling boat sailed directly to the positions we had given them, so when we arrived they were already hard at work collecting samples. They said the odor was overpowering. We took off to do some more scouting around, east to another large platform the "Deepwater Horizon Nautilus" and then back south and west in a big circle. (Sorry no photos of that, they were too lousy.) Not wanting to make the boat travel too far, we returned northward to search for oil closer to where the boat already was, and we quickly found another long line of sheen and several patches of the round rainbow- and brown-colored globules. We called the boat over and and they collected samples there as well. Both of these areas were small compared to all we had seen in the previous flights, but it was plenty for them to fill some of their jars. In fact, they wished they had large metal buckets so they could have taken an entire globule. Here are some photos of what it looked like from above, so you can get a sense of scale relative to the 33'-long boat. Note the one photo in here of the oil as viewed from the boat. These are all from gps waypoints 9148-9149.
On our way back from the Macondo site, we came across a large NOAA boat, the McArthur II. We couldn't tell what they were doing, but we hope they weren't out there looking for the reported oil, because they were a long ways from it! (gps waypoint 9150.)
FLIGHT LOG FOR THURSDAY AUGUST 25:
20110826 Thursday, OWOC Gulf Flight 2 for oil near Macondo, Flight Log
9128: N29° 13.884', W090° 18.367, 1789'agl, 1220 CDT
Two shrimp boats, nets down
Port Fourchon -- another shrimper, just northwest of the port.
More shrimpers at ~N28° 25', W090° 28', nets down.
9129: N28° 19.627', W090° 29.960', 1068'agl, 1250 CDT.
3a. -- Red vessel/tanker plus 2 more large tankers and 1 smaller supply-type vessel to the southwest ~1nm.
Says TK SPT Explorer, NASSAU. Anchored.
Large print below bridge is "SAFETY FIRST".
3b. -- The two larger ones (plus a supply vessel):
1. Supply vessel
2. MAERSK NAUTICA, has a white star on light blue, SINGAPORE, IMO 9323948.
3. BUNGA KASTURI LIMA, Port Kelang. IMO 9327114.
9130: N28° 10.416', W090° 35.736', 665'agl, 1301 CDT.
Tanker - Barcarolle - Monrovia. Also much old sargassum here.
9131: N27° 40.056', W090° 45.788', 1786' agl, 1317 CDT.
Lines of sargassum and wind rows east-to-west
9132: N27° 28.502', W090° 55.257', 770'agl, 1325 CDT.
Platform ENSCO 8502
9133: N27° 25.866', W090° 52.533', 1528'agl, 1328 CDT.
Lines of sheen, approx four, each ~150 m wide, west to east.
9134: N27° 18.692', W090° 44.257', 1356' agl, 1334 CDT.
2 Platforms + 1 large (drilling?) platform with very wide base - Transocean "Discoverer Clear Leader" - Chevron and TransOcean insignias around its name. Large supply boat nearby.
9135: N27° 38.759', W090° 11.365', 884' agl, 1355 CDT.
1 platform - "Diamond Offhshore - Ocean Victory" + 1 ship, "Iron Horse"
9136: N27° 59.221', W089° 48.019', 1478' agl, 1412 CDT.
Sargassum lines and win rows, plus a convergence line, south-to-north
9137: N28° 17.488', W089° 25.416', 736' agl, 1428 CDT.
Large ship, red bottom and yellow top "K. AMBER - PANAMA". Five bays with retractable hatches, the middle one was open.
(lost this waypoint, but just south of 9138):
Two sperm whales, mom and calf!
9138: N28° 19.718', W089° 21.579' 653' agl, 1435 CDT.
Large vessel underway, "Normand Clipper"
9139: N28° 22.002', W089° 18.278', 1192' agl, 1437 CDT.
Tanker, anchored. (No photos)
9140: N28° 26.681', W089° 00.904', 949' agl, 1448 CDT.
Large platform, red legs, and to its left/north, 2 ships, each with cranes.
"Olympic Challenger - AKER Yards, Aker ROV O2 CD" and "Chicksaw".
9141: N28° 34.936', W088° 46.521', 1207' agl, 1456 CDT.
Single sperm whale
9142: N28° 40.897', W088° 29.990', 413' agl, 1507 CDT.
Supply vessel - "Sarah Bordelon"
9143: N28° 44.449', W088° 22.`66', 644' agl, 1512 CDT.
GLOBULES! plus a ship, "Grant Candies", with a MacGregor crane
9144: N28° 42,178', W088° 06.520', 556' agl, 1524 CDT.
9145: N28° 42.637', W088° 06.561', 489' agl, 1526 CDT.
Line of globules and sheen
9146: N29° 31.978', W089° 34.413', 787' agl, 1625 CDT.
Large round spot of oil and brown red stuff !! and a shrimp boat just one mile north-northeast of it!
FLIGHT LOG FOR FRIDAY AUGUST 26
20110826-Flight Log over Gulf to Macondo to spot for oil sampling boat
9147: N29° 17.066, W088° 55.709', 891' gal, 1101 CDT
Lots of light-colored streamers, algae or mats? Shrimper in it! Dragging his nets through it! ~1-nm long sheets of it, about 100 yards wide, about five of them.
9148: N28° 42.206' W088° 06.438', 800'agl, 1148 CDT
Globs, a trail of them. Boat sampled these.
(Lost this gps waypoint, but it was east of the Macondo well slightly):
Transocean Deepwater Horizon Nautilus platform, plus two large supply vessels -- the C Rover and C Leader.
9149: N28° 32.491' W088° 04.404', 672' agl, 1206 CDT.
Second track of globules, extensive sampling.
9150: N28° 46.243', W088° 28.829', 507' agl, 1300 CDT.
NOAA vessel, McArthur II.