2012 December 02, Sunday
Macondo area, Gulf of Mexico

-- Many thanks to j. Brayton Matthews of Flightline First at New Orleans' Lakefront Airport for providing all photos and videos for this flight and this article. --

Since our November 9th flyover of the Deepwater Horizon wellhead and our publishing of the large surface oil slick there, BP has announced plans to begin further investigation of the wreckage and seafloor in that area, beginning tomorrow, December 3. Since the weather was perfect today and seas calm, we made a quick flight to see how things look out there, now three weeks since our Nov 9th flyover.  We were surprised to find a new drilling platform sitting almost right over the wellhead, and a large drillship also in the vicinity. We were dismayed to find many large surface slicks in the area, as well as some new ones along the eastern coast of Louisiana south of Black Bay. And of course it's unfortunately no surprise anymore to see the large, chronic Taylor Energy oil slick that has plagued the southern tip of Louisiana since 2004.

The new platform that has appeared over the Deepwater Horizon wellhead bears the name "ENSCO 8502" (photo on the right below). There was a fairly large slick about 2 miles northeast of it (photo on the left below), about 2 nm long and about 100 m wide.  But an even larger slick extended northwest almost directly from the new platform -- this one almost 2 sq nm (4 sq km) in size. In the maps below, the point marked "04221" is almost directly over the wellhead. The ENSCO platform was at the point marked "04381."  (Note: High-resolution photos are available on request.  These same photos appear in the galleries below, where they will show up in a larger view when selected individually.) 








In the first video below, you'll see the smaller of the above two slicks for the first 45 seconds, after which we pan to the ENSCO 8502 platform and the larger slick adjacent to it. There is another slick about 1 nm to the east, which is about the same size as the smaller one to the north (see photo on right below). Finally, there was yet another slick south of here, which was about 1 nm long (north-south) and about 50 m wide (no photo of that one is shown here).







About 10 nm south of the ENSCO 8502 platform and the wellhead, we found a large mobile drillship named "ENSCO DS-3" with two supply boats -- the C Legacy and the Jack Edwards.  A small oil slick was adjacent to this drillship running westward about 500 m, about 10 m in width.  Another 2 nm farther south was a working BP platform "MC474A", which was flaring and which also had a small slick extending westward from it, about the same size, roughly 500 m in length and about 10 m wide.  A video showing this platform is included below.





Here is a video showing the two slicks nearest the Deepwater Horizon wellhead today.  The rig toward the end of the video is the one new to this area --  the "ENSCO 8502."

Here is a video of the small slick extending westward from BP's platform MC474A, about 12 nm south of the Deepwater Horizon wellhead:


About 12 nm north of the Deepwater Horizon wellhead, southwest of Whiting Dome, we saw another large surface slick, near where we have reported seeing a large slick in the past (see, e.g., our articles from Sep 14, Oct 05, Nov 9, and Nov 10); it is shown in the photo on the left below. In the past we have referred to this  point as GPS waypoint 0405; today we marked the northwest end of this crescent-shaped slick by GPS point 0436, and its southeast end by GPS point 0437. (For exact latitudes and longitudes of these GPS waypoints, see the Flight Log below.)  This area is not included in a list of known natural seeps that we have surveyed for scientists in the Gulf, and we have not documented it in prior years, so more research is needed to understand its source and status. The photo on the right below is the ENSCO 8502 in the Macondo area, for comparison.








Here is a video of the crescent-shaped slick about 10 nm north of the Macondo:


A new sheen south of Black Bay

On our way out to the Taylor Energy slick and the Macondo today, we came across a considerable oil slick off the east coast of Louisiana, just south of Black Bay.  Referencing our Flight Log below, the west end of the sheen was around GPS point 0429 (29° 33.095' W89° 30.990'), the east end at GPS point 0430 (N29° 35.048' W89° 29.503'). It looked to be nearly 3 nm long (west-east) and about 30 m wide.  Here is a video of it:


There was a large gas platform and numerous small ones just south of this slick.  Here is a short video of those gas platforms and some of the slick to their north:


Taylor Energy

The chronic Taylor Energy slick still rages. We have seen no vessels out there working to clean it up or stop its source. The video and photos we have shown for many months (or is it years now?) speak for themselves, although perhaps they have spoken to deaf ears. Mysterious near-daily NRC reports from Taylor continue to appear, and they include quantitative estimates stating that this expansive surface sheen comprises a mere 2 gallons or so of oil, as judged from a flyover. (Who makes those flyovers is information not included in their reports to the public.) But the greater mystery is why this pollution is allowed to continue.  Is it so difficult to find and stop such leakage?  If so, are sufficient regulations and protocol in place to ensure that accidents like this will not happen with other wells in the Gulf? To whom can we even ask these questions to get reliable answers?









Here is what the rainbow sheen at Taylor Energy looked like today through our belly viewer (a view from directly above). Even though we flew over it at the worst time of day for lighting (around 1438 CST), the rainbow sheen was impossible to miss.


To the east of the Taylor Energy slick several miles, just past the Nicor Energy MC218 platform, we came across some very strange reddish foam and thick discoloration covering a large area.  Here is a video of it:


NRC reports, Flight Log and GPS Flight Tracks, and more photo galleries

 We have filed NRC reports for the Macondo slick, the crescent about 10 nm north of the Deepwater Horizon wellhead, Taylor Energy, and the new large sheen south of Black Bay.  Reports for the other sightings noted in our Flight Log below will be filed soon.  Many thanks to friend and devoted Gulf supporter Susan Forsyth for helping us get the NRC reports in promptly this evening!

Our Flight Log is transcribed below, with complete GPS coordinates and our notes recorded in real-time about what we saw. Our GPS Flight Tracks for today can be downloaded here. They will tell you our exact position and altitude at 5-10 second intervals, which can be used to verify the positions of any photos taken, through the metadata created with the photo.

Here are additional photos from today, the GPS positions for which you can find from the Flight Log.  If you click on any of these individual photos, you should be able to see a full-screen version of them.  If you want high-resolution copies of any of these for non-profit purposes supporting the Gulf of Mexico, we'll be happy to share them and any other information we have with you.


***** On Wings Of Care Flight Log for 20121202-Sunday ***** 
Overflight of Gulf of Mexico  - Black Bay, 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.
Aircraft & Personnel: Dr. Bonny Schumaker with Brayton Matthews of On Wings Of Care and guest Julie Dermansky of New Orleans, LA. 
Seas and weather:  Seas 1-2 ft, 10-15 kt winds from the south-southeast.
Visibility:  Air good, sea good, scattered high clouds.
Flight time:  3.1 hours
Flight route: KNEW - Taylor Energy & vicinity- Whiting Dome - MC166 (Mitchell Dome) - MC252 & vicinity - Mobile, Dauphin, & Gloria domes - OC26 & MC294 (Biloxi Dome) - KNEW

Short summary:

Gulf flyover by On Wings Of Care to survey a subset of recently documented surface oil slicks and known natural seep sites in the vicinity of MC252 (site of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 April), as well as the chronic Taylor Energy oil leak off the southern tip of Louisiana. Very significant surface oil in the form of many distinct large surface slicks was observed over an area within 2-4 nm of the DWH wreckage site, much of which we have not seen before in our surveys of natural seeps in that area. 


20121202 -  Waypoints of Interest

KNEW - Lakefront Airport

0429. N29 33.095 W89 30.990  1402 CST.
(South of Black Bay) West end of sheen with rainbow, ~ 3 nm west-east and 30 m wide.

0430.  N29 35.048 W89 29.503 1403 CST.
East end of above sheen.

0431. N29 31.350 W89 29.497  1407 CST.
Gas platforms and many small ones

0432. N29 29.289 W89 25.978 1410 CST.
Oil  - rainbow circle ~ 20 m radius, and many more like this southeast of here.

0433.  N29 05.449 W89 06.521 1428 CST.
Lots of reddish brown murky lines and patterns in the water, like plumes.  Sediment?  Algae?

Taylor Energy (near old GPS point 0410: N28 55.971 W88 58.020), 1438 CST.

0434. N28 56.134 W88 54.383  1440 CST.
Platform, Nicor Energy MC218, eastern end of Taylor Slick.

0435.  N28 56.283 W88 48.976  1446 CST.
Organic matter, long line of foam and thick discoloration, ~ 10 m by 500 m long.

0436. N28 52.796 W88 33.304 1457 CST.
Northwest end of a crescent shape of oil, running W-NW to E-SE, about 100-300 m wide and ~5 nm long.
0437.  N28 51.590 W88 29.782  1500 CST.
SE end of above (0436) crescent shape of surface oil.

0438.  N28 43.854 W88 21.587  1506 CST.
Platform and three large slicks.  Platform - “ENSCO 8502”.  One slick near the platform and to the northeast of it.  Another separated and farther north-northeast, less than 2 nm.  Another slick farther east ~ 1 nm. (See videos.) Note proximity to wellhead (approx at GPS point 04221). MC166 (a known natural seep) is nearly 10 nm northeast of here, not on our route of flight.

0439.  N28 46.523 W88 23.187  1508 CST.
West end of the slick just North of the ENSCO 8502 platform (see 0438 above). This slick is ~ 100 m x 2 nm long.  Yet another slick (#4 in this area) was south of the ENSCO 8502, which ran north-south ~1 nm long x 50 m wide.

0440.  N28 35.365 W88 19.160  1524 CST.
Large mobile drillship  (ENSCO DS-3) and two supply boats -- Jack Edwards and C Legacy.  This is about 10 nm south of the wellhead.  A small oil slick adjacent to and westward from this drillship, ~ 10 m x 500 m west to east.

0441.  N28 31.099 W88 17.216  1532 CST.
Platform MC474A (BP), approximately 12 nm south of wellhead. Slick extending westward from it, ~ 500 m x 10 m (similar in size to the one west of the ENSCO DS-3).  Platform was flaring.

0442.  N29 27.109 W89 23.944  1624 CST.
Gas platform, among many medium-size and smaller ones.  Also >100 shrimp boats southeast of here!

0443.  N29 36.199 W89 35.562  1631 CST.
Oil slick just east of here, ~ 300 m x 20 m.