2012 May 22 Tuesday
Gulf of Mexico, Taylor Energy site and on to the Macondo area, Green Canyon, and south of Grand Isle
Today we flew to the Taylor Energy site, then the Macondo area, then southwestward toward Green Canyon as far as incoming convective weather permitted, then northward toward Grand Isle, and finally back to the Taylor Energy site before returning to New Orleans. Aboard our plane was Dr. Ian MacDonald from Florida State University. A team of scientists including two of Dr. MacDonald's students was on a boat launched from Venice, with the purpose of carefully collecting samples of the slick at the Taylor Energy site for later analysis. A second pilot and plane came along just to look at the Taylor Energy site and to help guide the boat to good sampling locations. We gave the boat crew one of our aviation handhelds to faciliate reliable communication with the aircraft, and the boat crew felt they had been quite successful in obtaining excellent samples for analysis. Thanks go to Dan Tonsmeire of Waterkeepers Alliance for arranging and finding funds to help cover the boat and second plane and its photographer John Wathen, and hopefully some of On Wings Of Care's expenses as well.
We have documented the chronic oil leakage at the Taylor Energy site just 12 miles off the southeast coast of Louisiana numerous times in the past year. The former platform was damaged and sunk by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, taking with it the twisted remains of over 20 pipelines. To date, only five of those leaking pipelines have been plugged or repaired. Taylor Energy supposedly sold its holdings in this site in 2008 to Korean National Oil and Samsung, but somehow the signatures weren't obtained to complete the sale, so apparently Mrs. Taylor and her company remain responsible for this chronic pollution site. In recent months, an NRC report has been filed approximately every other day by some unidentified "aerial observation" which reports the observed extent of the surface slick at this location and provides an estimate of the volume of oil present. Strangely enough, while the surface area dimensions reported tend to be low but not terribly inconsistent with what we've observed, the volume estimates are absurdly low. The volume estimates imply an assumption for the average thickness of the visible sheen to be on the order of 4-40 nanometers. Yes, that's 4-40 thousandths of a micron, no more than 1/25th the diameter of a typical human hair. Whoever that unidentified aerial observer is must have high-resolution, powerful multiband spectrometers for eyes, to see and quantify a sheen so thin!
So why are they chronically under-reporting the volume of this long-standing, very ugly, oil pollution incident? Is someone duping Mrs. Taylor? Or is Mrs. Taylor duping the US Coast Guard? We have been asking questions of the USCG in Morgan City, and we hope to learn more in the coming week. One thing there is no disputing: this chronic, egregious pollution has gone on far too long.
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.
Here are maps showing our overall flight path today. Our Flight log for this day's flight is copied at the bottom of this article, and the full GPS flight tracks can be downloaded under the "Flight Tracks" main menu item on this website.
Following the maps of our flight path are some photos taken by Ian from directly above the slick looking straight down on it. Dr. MacDonald's research group is planning to make a mosaic of this and other slicks using these vertical images. The track of the slick mirrors our flight path on the maps shown below, between the southwest corner of the slick at our flight's GPS point #0286 (N28° 51.896' W089° 03.163') to the northeast corner of the slick at GPS point #0267 (N28° 56.783' W088° 57.928'). In the few hours between our first and final flyover of this area, the slick had moved nearly a mile westward but maintained its roughly crescent shape.
Because we were focusing on flying directly over all of the sheens and slicks we saw, we don't have video or photographs taken from oblique angles that allow us to reduce solar glare and show you the dramatic sites we witnessed with our eyes. In the future, we'll try to accommodate two fly-bys, so that we can get good oblique photos and videos while also providing the scientists with their directly overhead photographs. Those oblique photos and video that we have are provided below. However, the second plane present at the Taylor site did get some very fine photos which can be viewed at John Wathen's photobucket site.
The last two stills just above the video show drone vessels we saw several miles south of the Taylor Energy site (at our GPS waypoint #0268, at N28° 48.407' W088° 55.526'). There were ten of them moving in parallel. Our presumption was that they were carrying hydrophones of some sort and perhaps performing seismic monitoring. We were not able to see any markings that identified them in any way.
The second-to-last pair of photos above the video show two thin sheens we saw in the Macondo area.
The area south of Grand Isle is littered with platforms, and there are small slicks and sheens associated with at least one third of those platforms. We The people of Mississippi who are considering opening up their coastal waters to oil and gas drilling ought to fly over the waters south of Grand Isle, LA before they make such a decision!
The area south of Grand Isle was also the only place we saw any shrimp boats -- and we saw a group of about ten of them all clustered together in this area. We saw virtually no wildlife during this trip, except for several small bait balls south of Grand Isle (near the above-mentioned shrimp boats). The first time we noticed an appreciable number of birds was at a small island north of the tip of Louisiana on the east coast (GPS waypoint #0288 at N29° 32.418' W089° 31.866'). More details can be found in our Flight Log transcribed below.
On Wings Of Care Flight Log for 20120522, Tuesday
Taylor Energy, Macondo, Green Canyon, S. of Grand Isle
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.
Aircraft: N4784E Bonny Schumaker with Ian MacDonaldand and Brayton Matthews as spotters and photographers.
Equipment: We used a Canon DSLR in the belly viewer, a handheld camera, and Sony HD video camera.
Seas and weather: Seas 1-2 ft, beautifully smooth. 10-15 kt winds from the north-northwest. Visibility fair.
[Vague rule of thumb for estimating volume of slick: assume 1 micron thickness if otherwise unknown. Then 50 m by 1 nm = 26 gal. 1 nm = 2000m (or 1 sq km = 264 gal).]
0267. 1215 CDT. N28 56.783 W88 57.928
East end of Taylor Energy oil slick
0268. 1237 CDT. N28 48.407 W88 55.526
10 drone hydrophones moving in parallel, southwestward. (Seismic monitoring?)
Who is controlling them, from where? Where did they start and where are they going? How long will they be out there?
0269. 1303 CDT. N28 48.272 W88 15.656
Huge paddies and lines of sargassum, beautiful healthy-looking sargassum. W-E, 10-15 nm long at least, then curving N-S.
0270. 1304 CDT. N28 48.573 W88 13.885
More sargassum, NW-SE line.
0271. 1306 CDT. N28 48.732 W88 09.887
OIL slick, N-S ~4 nm, ~50-100 m wide/
0272. 1310 CDT. N28 50.538 W88 10.417
North end of above oil slick (0271).
0273. 1317 CDT. N28 45.139 W88 17.948
S end of a S-N OIL slick, ~ 2 nm long.
0274. 1323 CDT. N28 41.461 W88 21.569
S end of above slick, ~10 nm long, ~50-100 m wide, running NW-SE.
0275. 1328 CDT. N28 37.823 W88 22.714
Lots of sargassum, patties and lines.
0276. 1348 CDT. N28 24.516 W89 00.975
Production platform (Opti-Ex) and Drilling rig about 1 nm North (plus a vessel)
0277. 1403 CDT. N28 24.199 W89 22.890
Line of sargassum, W-E.
0278. 1404 CDT. N28 25.685 W89 23.445
Another very thick line of sargassum, W-E. Beautiful, >10 nm long. Blue-green water line.
0279. 1419 CDT. N28 46.787 W89 33.364
Small turtle! (couldn't ID species)
0280. 1429 CDT. N28 48.767 W89 46.396
OIL slick, this marks the E end, extending W beyond 0281. ~6 nm long x 0.3 nm wide
0281. 1430 CDT. N28 47.938 W89 50.914
Still E of W end of above slick. Three platforms here, 1 S of the slick, 2 N of it.
Orange buoy at east end, White buoy to the north of the east end.
0282. (Lost notes on this one.)
0283. 1446 CDT. N28 57.747 W90 04.985
Six golden (cownose?) rays!
0284. 1458 CDT. N29 07.207 W89 55.337
OIL - S. of Grand Isle
0285. 1511 CDT. N29 06.368 W89 37.363
White buoy, looks like a treasure chest (like the one that used to be at Taylor Energy, except no "cross"-shaped thing on top of it).
0286. 1528 CDT. N28 51.896 W89 03.163
SW corner of the Taylor Energy slick
0287. 1603 CDT. N29 26.315 W89 26.290
OIL. Two "leaf-shaped" slicks, each about 300 m long, ~30-50 m wide, one heading W, the other NW.
0288. 1613 CDT. N29 32.418 W89 31.866
Lovely island with a beach and many, many birds -- looks like active rookery for pelicans.