2011 December 20, Tuesday
Gulf of Mexico

Yesterday morning, Transocean reported a 13,000-gallon (310-barrel) spill from their Deepwater Nautilus semi-submersible, which is currently drilling for Shell Oil in 7,200' of water about 26 miles southeast of the sunken Deepwater Horizon, in the Appomattox area. The spill was reported to be oil mixed with drilling fluid from a leak in a booster line.  A "light surface sheen" was verified by the U.S. Coast Guard during an overflight.  We arrived there a little after 11am and found two vessels: Akira Chouest and Emily Candies. The seas were too rough and visibility too poor to positively identify any surface sheen. But we can say with confidence that the many sightings of oil in the Macondo area on our last flight, December 09, and on this flight, are not associated with this drilling work.  

Enroute there, and on our way back from there, we found more than we expected we would see with the poor atmospheric visibility and rough seas.  Yesterday and today were the first days of decent flying weather for visual surveys in ten days, but visibility was still borderline due to low clouds and mist.  Seas were 4 to 6 ft too, not great for spotting oil or marine life. But in winter here in the Gulf it's futile to wait for perfect blue-sky days, so we were up and early today.
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.  

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(More maps of our flight paths, of varying resolution and depicting oil sightings by red circles with the most recent dates of the sightings -- e.g., 1220 for today, are given just above our Flight Log, at the bottom of this article.)

Despite very modest camera equipment and the poor atmospheric conditions, we saw a surprising amount. Our cameras saw somewhat less, but you'll get the general idea. Referring to our flight log appended below, we first saw a small patch of rainbow sheen north of Black Bay, about 10m (meters) by 30m in area (gps#1028 and 1-NRC in the flight log below, our first NRC incident report). Perhaps it is caused by a leaking pipeline or an absent vessel, we cannot tell from the air. As we approached the tip of the Delta, we flew over what looks like lots of tarballs (gps#130 below); we observed this on our last flight Dec 9 also. Today it seemed to us more likely to be vegetation (see photo below).  

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The next short but clear line of oil was among numerous rigs east and slightly north of the tip of the Delta (gps#131, 2-NRC), about 15m by 30m in area.  It did not appear related to any particular rig; we wondered if it might be a leaking pipeline.  We did not delay here to try to optimize lighting, and unfortunately our modest equipment did not pick it up well photographically, but it was significant enough that we reported it to the NRC, along with the other four significant sightings from today.

The third unmistakable and significant sighting of oil was in the Macondo area, about 13 nm southeast of the sunken Deepwater Horizon and about the same distance west of the Deepwater Nautilus (gps#0132, 3-NRC).  We were hurrying to beat some cloud cover and get over to the Deepwater Nautilus, so we didn't take great video of this line nor follow it all of its way, but you'll get the idea.  The same sort of lines we've been seeing for months -- narrow, maybe no wider than 10 m in most places, but at least 1 nm long.  This was very near sightings from our last flights on December 9.

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Things seemed quiet at the Deepwater Nautilus, though the visibility was so poor we really couldn't have seen much surface oil had it been there.  Two ships were present, the Akira Chouest and the Emily Candies.  We proceeded southwest from there to somewhat brighter skies, and soon spied what looked to be quite a bit of activity.  Six vessels, approximately near two platforms but not obviously performing work associated with the platforms.  At the Noble Amos Runner platform (whose position today decidedly differs from what we looked up on the internet at rodnreel.com, by the way), there were three vessels nearby:  Joshua Chouest, Dino Chouest, and Touchdown.  Just a few miles southwest was a BP platform we visited last December 9 whose only visible identification is "MC474A") with a helicopter on its pad, and three vessels gathered together a mile or so north of it:  Ocean Intervention III, C Chariot, and Grant Candies.  At the Na Kika platform to the south, all looked quiet and we saw no vessels.

Here are some videos of the Deepwater Nautilus and the other platforms and vessels.  A gallery of photos of the various rigs and vessels is at the bottom of this article, just before the transcription of our Flight Log.

 

We headed back homeward at this point, since visibility was getting no better.  To our surprise, we did find more oil on our way northward, at about 13 nm northeast of the sunken Deepwater Horizon (gps#0135, 4-NRC in the flight log below).  We have found oil in this area every time we've flown since August of this year. Here we found a sheet of oil about 1.5 nm long (south-to-north), maybe 20m wide.  The footage we took did not come out well.  Disappointed by the poor visibility conditions, we headed directly homeward -- and then decided to take a very quick detour to see if the chronic leakage at the Taylor Energy site had been stopped yet.

The Taylor Energy site has been a big mess for some time, and we have yet to fly over that vicinity and not see some gnarly looking stuff.  It moves around a bit, and today the most obvious lines, patches, and streamers were in an area almost 5 nm long and aout 3 nm wide (west to east).  Some of the oil is quite weathered, showing itself as the typical wavy reddish-brown streamers, some of it dark and thick, some of it almost foamlike. The streamers themselves stretched 1-2 nm, and there were patches 100m wide. No vessels were working this area today.  

Here are three videos of the Taylor Energy vicinity:



On our way home, we were treated to the beautiful site of hundreds of white pelicans alluded to above. Gathered closely together in a lovely heart shape, they were one of the prettiest and most refreshing sites we've seen in the Gulf for a while. May they survive and thrive!

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Finally, here are photos of the various vessels and platforms noted above and in the Flight Log below.

 

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OWOC GULF Flight Log - 20111220 Tuesday

Headed first to a Shell exploration site in Appomattox area, Transocean's drilling platform Deepwater Nautilus.
KNEW - (Breton - Deepwater Nautilus - Taylor) - KNEW
~4.2 hrs, ETD KNEW 0930 CST = 1530Z, ADIZ at 1015 = 1615Z,

Return KNEW  1330 CST = 1930Z.
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Numbers 0128-0140 below refer to our GPS waypoint numbers,
described below in the order observed. Lat/lons are given in degrees and decimal minutes. Distances in nautical miles (nm) or meters (m).

1-NRC (NRC Incident Report #998651):  0128 - 1011 CST, N29 43.037 W89 31.240.
Patch of oil, rainbow sheen, about 10 x 30 m.

0129 - 1016 CST, N29 38.750 W89 23.605.
Neat views of rigs in the mist and low clouds.
Breton Island is barely visible due to high tide and ever-increasing erosion.
Three vessels close together to its southeast.

0130 - 1033 CST, N29 18.886 W89 01.062.
Lots of tarballs (?) floating here.  Maybe vegetation, can't tell.

(0124), N29 14.649 W88 55.609. 
Rig flaring.  Very cloudy and poor visibility, tough to see oil with cameras even when we can see it with our eyes.  Sightings will be only of the very obvious sheens.

2-NRC (NRC Incident Report #998652)0131 - 1040 CST, N29 11.069 W88 52.536.
OIL patch, not large (leaking pipeline?), about 15x30 m.

(0123) - N29 07.828 W88 46.860.
Chevron rig, A55-215, one vessel there.

3-NRC (NRC Incident Report #998653): 0132 - 1111 CST, N28 38.776 W88 10.752.
Line of oil, N-S.  No mistaking despite very poor light and visibility.  About 1 nm long (S-N), narrow ~10m. (Near 0112 - oil sighted 20111209.)

Deepwater Nautilus platform - 1119 CST, N28 38.07 W87 59.02
Two vessels here: Akira Chouest and Emily Candies. Water too rough and visibility too poor to positively identify any sheen.

0133 - 1131 CST, N28 33.483 W88 14.350.
Platform Noble Amos Runner + 3 vessels: Joshua Chouest, Dino Chouest, and Touchdown.

(0116) - 1135 CST, N28 30.702 W88 17.364.
Platform BP-MC474 (with helicopter on it). Flaring.  + 3 vessels: Ocean Intervention III, C Chariot, Grant Candies.

Na Kika platform -- no vessels, looked quiet.

0134 - 1159 CST, N28 40.934 W88 12.193.
Patch of old sargassum.

4-NRC (NRC Incident Report #998654): 0135 - 1205 CST, N28 50.966 W88 10.226.
Sheet of oil, ~1.5 nm long S-N, 20 m wide.  (Near previous waypoints 108, 109 - oil sighted 20111209.)

5-NRC (NRC Incident Report #998655): 0136 - 1246 CST, N28 57.210 W89 04.921.
(Taylor Energy vicinity). Sheen. Line W-E, ~1.5 nm long, 10 m wide (N-S).

(combined with above 5-NRC report):  0137 - 1248 CST, N28 54.672 W89 03.161.
Continued oil sheen.  Some deep reddish-brown weathered lines and patches.
Long lines - 2 nm of many streamers, and some large patches. Rainbow, metallic, and reddish-brown.

0138 - 1319 CST, N29 23.492 W89 24.941.
Beautiful crowd of white pelicans, all standing close together in heart-shaped small piece of land.

0139 - 1322 CST, N29 27.830 W89 30.035.
Tarballs? Or vegetation? Many,floating, dark-colored, about 0.5-1 ft in length.

0140 - 1325 CST, N29 31.366 W89 33.752.
Surface sheen, light, several streamers about 10-15 m long, 1-2 m wide.