2012 June 13
Coastal waters of Louisiana
Gulf of Mexico 

Here is the official summary of the U.S. Coast Guard's investigation into inquiries about foam seen in the waters off Venice, LA following a planned dispersant spraying exercise by MSRC (Marine Spill Response Corportation) out of Kiln, MS at Stennis Airport (KHSA).  MSRC planned and claims to have used water as a mock dispersant for this exercise, scheduled for and carried out on June 13, 2012. The original plan submitted by MSRC to the USCG can be downloaded as a pdf file here, under this website's main menu item "Flight Tracks" and titled "20120613-USCG Investigation of MSRC Dispersant Spraying Exercise." 

The public was also notified of this planned exercise by a Local Notice to Mariners, a photo of which is included in the gallery below this official summary.  The other photos in this gallery come from the original plan available here for download.

Here is the official letter from the USCG to Billy Nungesser, President of Plaquemines Parish, who requested the investigation.

Thanks to the USCG for sharing this with us!

 
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Dear President Nungesser,

This email responds to concerns described in your July 3 press release regarding a recent dispersant training exercise, photos of a white substance on the surface of the water, and claims from fisherman of itching and burning caused by the substance. The Coast Guard and the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator's Office have investigated the incident and I'd like to share with you what we've found. Considering the community's sensitivity to dispersant use from the Deepwater Horizon response, we take a claims like this very seriously and want to provide you any facts that help you better inform your constituents:

Marine Spill Response Corporation (MSRC) conducted a dispersant training exercise on 13 June that involved spraying water from a non-military, contracted C-130 aircraft spraying water on a simulated oil spill. They do this from time to time to meet Coast Guard oil spill preparedness requirements for contractors with pollution response capability. MSRC made notifications per their company procedures and the Coast Guard issued a local notice to mariners dated 06 June 2012 (attached) and FAA issued a Notice to Airmen for aircraft in the area. MSRC's plan was to conduct the exercise offshore 50 miles east of the Bird's Foot Delta, but they made a last minute change and conducted it in the center Chandeleur Sound instead. on 13JUN12. Coast Guard staff inspected the aircraft, pumps and tanks on the ground in Kiln, MS before the aircraft took off. The tanks appeared to be filled with water which was confirmed by on scene MSRC personnel. Coast Guard staff observed the exercise remotely at the aircraft hangar using real time aircraft tracking software provided by MSRC.

The aircraft flew a pattern shown in the attached powerpoint file (13JUNimage) to the center of Chandeleur Sound and sprayed 1500 gallons of water. The aircraft was accompanied by a King Air spotter aircraft to ensure that the area was clear of boats and marine mammals, just as they would in an actual dispersant sortie. Coast Guard returned yesterday to conduct a follow-up site visit/inspection of the aircraft and its tank in Kiln, MS to verify their condition. MSRC representatives demonstrated for us the steps they take to fill the tanks with water and provided documentation to show only water was used. The aircraft used in the exercise began operation after the Deepwater Horizon response and has never carried dispersants. MSRC reports that nothing used in the training (the hoses, the totes that hold water and the tanks on the plane) has ever come in contact with dispersants.

So what about the photos and the reports from the fishermen? We don't know when the photos were taken or at what altitude, etc., but we believe that they were taken approximately 35 miles south and southwest of Chandeleur Sound near North Pass, east of Venice and the Bird's Foot Delta. We've marked the locations where we believe they were taken on the same attached powerpoint file (13JUNimage). In trying to establish a connection between the white substance in the photo and any type of dispersant spray, we're challenged by the considerable distance between the exercise location and the probable location of the photos. We've consulted dispersant application experts from NOAA and they say the photos don't remotely resemble how a dispersant spray would appear on water - dispersants don't "foam up" like this and multiple aircraft would have to make multiple applications to cover this large of an area.

We don't dispute the observations and symptoms the fishermen experienced and have consulted experts to see what they think. A biologist from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette indicated that "the photos certainly seem to show microscopic algal blooms. Common algae that are harmful (HAB=Harmful Algal Blooms) and provoke skin irritation in the Northern Gulf of Mexico belong to the diatom Pseudo-nitzschia". Our NOAA Scientific Support Coordination staff indicates that what is in the photos is consistent with naturally forming sea foam, and that this opinion is supported by academic biologists familiar with algal blooms who have also viewed the images provided. LADEQ believes that the substance in the photos was most likely due to an algae bloom and have provided photos (attached) of a similar phenomena in Chandeleur Sound in May 2010.

Certainly no dispersant application has been authorized by the Coast Guard and our Regional Response Team partners since the Macondo Well was capped in 2010. But our lesson in this is to make sure that parishes and stakeholders are better informed when these exercises are held so we can address concerns and misperceptions when they come up. MSRC has suspended water spraying exercises pending an internal review of procedures and external notification processes, and we will make sure that notifications will be made to the parish in the future. Exercises won't be held in Chandeleur Sound in the future... dispersants aren't preauthorized there anyway because of its shallow water and proximity to shore. These will be held further offshore away from concentrations of fishing boats.

Finally, please don't hesitate to call me anytime if you have any Coast Guard-related issues that I can help with. I appreciate your support and involvement with our spill response planning efforts and I hope we can work together when we have issues like this in the future.

Respectfully,

Peter Gautier


Captain Peter Gautier
Sector Commander, Captain of the Port
Coast Guard Sector New Orleans
(504) 365-2215
(504) 628-4169
24-hr Operations Center (800) 874-2153


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LNM_23_12.pdf LNM_23_12.pdf
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Stennis 2012 Training NOTIFICATION clean.pdf Stennis 2012 Training NOTIFICATION clean.pdf
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