2013 March 13
Bayou Perot, about 30 miles south of New Orleans, LA
Yesterday evening around 6pm (CDT), a tugboat pushing an oil barge struck a gas pipeline in Bayou Perot, a wetlands area about three miles south of Lake Salvador, about 30 miles south-southwest of New Orleans. Today at 4pm, about 24 hours later, the very charred tugboat and barge are sitting on the bottom in the very shallow water, and there remains a fierce ball of flame and long line of very dark smoke blowing southward in today's 20-mph northwesterly winds. We took a quick half-hour flight to bring you some up-to-date photos. There is no fire in the surrounding wetlands, and the sheen that extends southward well over a mile looks to be contained and not contaminating the shoreline. Here are our photos and a video from today, together with a map of our flight track. Our GPS flight tracks for today's flight can be downloaded here.
2013 March 08, Friday
Gulf of Mexico
A few weeks ago, our flight over the Gulf showed little of the usual ugly sheen we had been seeing off the southeast coast of Louisiana for the past six months, so we voiced cautious but hopeful optimism. (See "Clearer views and good news for the Gulf?") But today's flight gave us anything but optimism. We saw pervasive rainbow and gray sheen in many places, including the two chronic pollution sites that have plagued the Gulf for years now -- the Taylor Energy site about 12 nautical miles (nm) off the southern tip of Louisiana, and the Macondo prospect another 50 nm offshore (home to the infamous lease block MC252 and the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe of 2010 April). We have flown more than 500 flight hours in the past three years over these offshore and coastal waters, and the two trends that disturb us most are 1) sources of "unknown sheen" are constant and uniquitous, and 2) the presence of visible marine life has dropped drastically. After today's flight, we filed 15 NRC reports with the US Coast Guard for significant oil slicks or sheens over our 350-nm route.
2013 February 17, Sunday
Mississippi River - Barataria Bay - MC252 - Main Pass
UPDATE: Video of the Taylor Energy site has been uploaded; see below. Also, another flight on March 08 shows that the clearer views and good news were short-lived!
We took advantage of gorgeous (but windy) weather and reasonably calm seas to check out some areas in the Gulf today. We started along the Mississippi River where there are several targets of local environmental concern: two large (and growing larger) coal terminals and a new natural pass that is feeding the wetlands but is being blocked by a private road being built. We then diverted west to look at Bay Jimmy and Barataria Bay, where oyster and shrimp fishermen have been extremely hard hit. From there we flew southeastward over the delta, past the Taylor Energy chronic pollution site and out to the MC252 area (gravesite of BP's Deepwater Horizon). The good news is that the large surface sheen we've been seeing in the MC252 area seems to have gone! On our way home, we flew over the Apache Corporation Ensco 87 rig in Main Pass block 295, which was evacuated a couple of days ago because of an upwelling of natural gas. Between there and New Orleans, we were treated to gorgeous views of Breton Island and the wetlands. We also saw the first pod of dolphins we've seen between Louisiana and the Macondo in almost a year! A small pod of seven, but heartening to see.
Here are some "teaser" photos from today. Many more, with supporting descriptions, are included below. As always, our GPS flight tracks can be downloaded here, and a transcription of our Flight Log is appended at the bottom of this article.
2013 January 27, Sunday
Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River, Louisiana
Today we had a wonderful treat. Our hard-working colleague and Gulf heroine Trisha James and her husband Mark joined us for a flight over the Gulf! On our way southward, we took a little extra time to check out some spots of concern along the Mississippi River, thanks to an alert from Scott Eustis of the Gulf Restoration Network. So in addition to what we can show you about offshore Louisiana today, you'll see some photos of two large coal terminals along the east bank of the Mississippi, as well as a new pass that the river is building in Bohemia, downriver of where the levee ends. You'll also see a dramatic wetlands fire that surprised us on our return back.
Unfortunately there are still some troubling sites offshore. The chronic Taylor Energy slick remains a heinous pollution situation, and today's quiet seas revealed that slick to be larger in size than it has looked to us before. What looks to be a natural seep about 10 miles southwest of the Macondo area, which we discovered last week, remains as it looked last week. But the most troubling vision today was the Macondo area itself. The slick that we had first noticed last fall, which was spreading over the area within a half-mile or so of the scene of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, was huge today. It stretched over 7 nautical miles in the south-north direction and was almost a mile wide in some spots. There were some patches of rainbow sheen and even some weathered oil (brownish "mousse"), although overall it remained a light surface sheen. The ENSCO8502 drilling rig is still working in MC253 there; its presence provides scale in the photos.
Here are a few introductory photos of these sites. Many more photos, plus a video of the Macondo area, are in the full article below. Many thanks to Trisha and Mark for coming all the way from Florida to join us today, and to both of them for taking photos and video!
The two large coal piles we examined are the Kinder Morgan International Marine Terminal and United Bulk Coal Terminal. We are told that there are plans to expand these coal (and pet coke) terminals by nearly 400%, into Plaquemines Parish. Such coal terminals have been stopped in other parts of the country such as the northwest, for environmental protection reasons. Is this a case of Louisiana being willing to sacrifice and take risks that other more cautious states have refused?
A little farther down the river we checked out a new pass that the river is building in Bohemia, on the east bank, downriver of where the levee ends -- appropriately called Mardi Gras Pass. This new river is sustaining the wetlands beyond it, and it is also happy home to many otters. It is threatened, however, by an oil company road that would fill it. That road construction was not exactly impressive, as you'll see in the photos below.
Before we reached the southern tip of Louisiana, and as we approached the eastern shores, we saw our first significant oil slick. We reported this to the National Response Center as the first of what would be four reports from today; this one was NRC Incident Report #1036761. We'll post a photo of it by tomorrow.
Our first stop offshore was the chronic Taylor Energy slick, barely off the southern tip of Louisiana. This slick looked larger than we’ve seen it in many months. The calm seas of the past few days have allowed surface slicks to remain visible, and the spatial extent of this one is shocking. (This was our NRC Incident Report #1036762.)
As we approached the Macondo area, we first flew a few miles west to see if the new small slick we had seen ther last Sunday remained. Sure enough, it does, same size and same place. Perhaps this is a new natural seep? (This was NRC Incident Report #1036760 for today.)
Arriving at the scene of the 2010 April BP disaster, near the infamous lease block "MC252", we saw the most dramatic and disturbing site of all. This surface slick now stretches more than 7 nm in length south to north and is over a mile wide in many places. There are patches of rainbow and weathered “mousse” in it as well, which we have not seen out there for many months. (This was NRC Incident Report #1036763, our fourth and final report for today.)
We returned on a direct path toward New Orleans, over Breton Island and the “city” of platforms in that vicinity. There were some dramatic marsh fires in the wetlands as we approached New Orleans, one of them adjacent to what looked like an abandoned refinery. We didn't get a great photo of that one, but the second fire, just a bit farther north, seemed to grow before our eyes.