2014 September 08 Monday
Gulf of Mexico, 12 miles off the tip of Louisiana
The chronic oil leak known as the “Taylor Energy slick”

As part of our non-profit mission, which includes the protection of wildlife and natural ecosystems as well as humanitarian work, we continue to make regular flyovers of the Gulf of Mexico, its northern barrier islands, and the wetlands associated with the five Gulf Coast states.  With photos, videos, and detailed flight logs, OWOC documents wildlife, sargassum, and significant oil or gas pollution incidents and shares this information with the public and with government agencies such as NOAA, NMFS, and the US Coast Guard.

Today’s flight had a very specific mission: to photograph and video the chronic ten-year-running oil leak into the Gulf known as the “Taylor Energy” slick located about 10-12 miles off the tip of Louisiana.  It is the result of damage during Hurricane Ivan in 2004, during which a platform and tens of pipelines were destroyed.  Exacerbated by mud flows and subsequent storms, the continuing steady leakage of oil from the seafloor is now deemed impossible to mitigate.

For several years now, we've been reporting regularly on the Taylor slick, but in the past year we've also been supporting scientific studies by flying it at precisely the same times that observation satellites are passing overhead.  Our coincident low-altitude (500’-1000’ MSL) flights  help scientists understand how to  use satellite data to identify and characterize surface pollution incidents — spatial extent, thicknesses of surface slicks, even age and degree of weathering of crude oil, etc.

Today, the Earth-orbiting Terra satellite (launched in 1999 by NASA) would be aiming the Japanese sensor known as ASTER (or Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer) at this area around noon local time. ASTER gives images with resolution of several tens of meters  at more than 10 different wavelengths ranging from the visible (about 0.5 micron) to thermal infrared (about 11 microns) and is used to make maps of surface temperatures, reflectances, and other properties. 

We followed a heavy line of rainbow sheen from its abrupt starting points southwestward along a winding line that stretched about 13-15 nm (nautical miles) and was typically not wider than about 50-100 meters (m). We took photographs as we flew southwestward with the slick to our left  (approximately east of us ), and we took video as we flew northeastward with the slick to our left (approximately west of us).  We haven’t included all of the photos here, but the order of these photos still reflects our steady progression along the slick, as does the video (taken in the reverse direction, northeastward back to the starting point of the slick).

Here are a few of those photos and a video.  Notice the abrupt start of the line of rainbow sheen in the very first photograph; this is at the northeast end of the long line which we photographed and videotaped today.  More photos are in the galleries below the video.  At the end of this article is today’s flight log.

See all the photos and videos and read more here!