2013 July 23, Tuesday
Gulf of Mexico, 100 nm south of New Orleans, LA 

News came to us just as we landed from a picturesque six-hour flight on the Sabine River between Texas and Louisiana tracking endangered swallow-tailed kites: the Hercules Offshore drilling platform #265 located about 100 nm south of New Orleans had experienced a blowout this morning around 10am CDT. Lifeboats were used to evacuate 44 workers, none of whom experienced serious injuries.  We flew out there at around 2pm and found only about a mile of very light surface sheen to the east of the platform, which would support public statements that "only" natural gas is leaking at this time.

The rest of the facts will become clearer shortly, but for now, here are our photos from the site as of this afternoon. Stay tuned for our high-definition video to be uploaded shortly.  As always, our high-resolution photos and videos are available for all uses whose intent is to benefit the Gulf of Mexico and her life.

Special thanks today to Peter Valdez, pilot and employee of Flightline First at New Orleans' Lakefront Airport, for joining us on this flight and helping both with photography and flying!

 

2013 July10  Wednesday
Ship Shoal Lease Block 225, northwest of Ewing Bank

Gulf of Mexico 

UPDATE:  Video has been uploaded -- see below!

A badly leaking natural gas well in the Ship Shoal Lease Block #225 of the Gulf of Mexico has spread an ugly, toxic mass of oily rainbow sheen over several square miles not far from the top of Ewing Bank -- an area once rich with marine life, especially large plankton feeders and many other species of marine life. We have flown that area in eight different five-to-six-hour wildlife survey flights just within the past three weeks, helping scientists find and study whale sharks.  Today, despite mirror-calm seas, excellent water and air visibility, and clear blue water, we saw barely a trace of marine life in this area.  In a couple of hours of searching that area, we found just one hammerhead shark, a few dolphin, a few small bait balls and some flying fish. Closer to shore, off the Isles Dernieres, we did see some cownose rays and small turtles, a few more dolphin and a few small bait balls, but still not much by comparison with years past.  We are seriously starting to wonder where all the life has gone, and how the animals who remain are managing to find enough to eat.

But our report on wildlife in the Gulf waits for a separate article. Here we just want to share with you today's photos and videos from our flyover of this badly leaking natural gas well. It is one of several owned by Houston-based Talos Energy LLC (who purchased them from Energy Resources Technology Gulf of Mexico LLC last February). The well and surrounding platforms are barely 25 miles northwest of the top of Ewing Bank, sitting in fairly shallow water not more than a few hundred feet deep.

Here are a few photos.  Many more are included at the end of this article, and a high-definition video is included below!  (Photo credits: Billy Dugger with On Wings Of Care)


2013 June 19-20 Wednesday-Thursday
Gulf of Mexico -- Ewing Bank and Mississippi Canyon

UPDATE!  MANY VIDEOS OF THIS NOW POSTED ON OUR YOUTUBE SITE!
For composite videos, see Part 1 and Part 2!
For short clips, see the index of our videos here!
 

Calm seas and a nearly full moon were too good to miss, so days ahead of schedule, we opted to continue our aerial whale-shark survey and tagging expeditions in conjunction with Ms. Jennifer McKinney and other researchers from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries (LDWF).  And are we ever glad we did! We “struck gold” this past Thursday June 20 in the Ewing Bank area, finding 24 whale sharks and helping divers get DNA samples and satellite tags on 10 of them -- limited only by the number of tags they had with them! The previous record for tagging whale sharks in one day was set when we helped Dr. Eric Hoffmayer a few years ago in the Gulf; that time they were able to get five whale sharks tagged in one day.  So this is a major cause of celebration and congratulations to all.  Judgment and readiness to go when weather and seas were most inviting, skills of the divers and the boat captain, and our experience with spotting and familiarity with the subsea terrain of the Gulf of Mexico combined to produce an unprecedented success -- and a downright magical day!

2013 June 03, Monday
Gulf of Mexico, 10-80 miles off the tip of Louisiana

Seas were calm and we had about 15 hours before we had to leave on travel, so we grabbed our clear shot between thunderstorms to the east and west and headed for the Gulf waters south of Louisiana to check on some gnarly-looking oil slicks we had seen out there on our whale shark flight last Friday May 24. The full story is below, but the very short story is that for over 30 nautical miles we tracked that chronic outrageously-ugly oil slick from the old Taylor Energy site (a platform and more than 25 attached pipelines that were damaged in Hurricne Ivan in 2004). We stopped following it in order to check out a few of the other sheens we had sighted on  May 24, and while some of those were still apparent, they were narrower lines of light surface sheen and only small portions of heavier rainbow sheen. We delighted to see a large adult sperm whale about 60 nm south of the Taylor slick, and we'll include some photo of that enormous handsome marine mammal below. 

We waited until today to publish this article, primarily because we had to leave on travel to the west coast for some animal rescue transports, but also because we gave our time instead to processing our photos and flight information in order to provide all of it to the US Coast Guard. As a result of what we showed them about the Taylor Energy slick, the USCG put together a group to work on our information and planned a flight out there themselves for this morning, Wednesday June 5.  Although winds and seas and storms kicked up after our flight, we hope that conditions are good enough today for them to follow our information and see this pollution for themselves today.

Why are we so motivated to keep trying to show the public and the USCG the true extent of the pollution out in the Gulf, particularly at this chronic Taylor site? Primarily because ever since we began flying and reporting on the Taylor pollution about two years ago (as regularly as we could afford to do), someone has been filing daily NRC reports on this site, claiming to be from aircraft sightings, claiming that the pollution amounts to a volume of little more than a few gallons of oil.  This is an outrageously innacurate underestimate. All of our videos and photos and our own NRC reports defy such statements, but to date, the USCG, the EPA, and other government enforcement agencies have not acted so as to effect the undertaking of repair or remediation. So the leakage has continued. Our short flight on Monday, in which we tracked just 30 nm of the meandering highway of rainbow sheen on the water' surface, proved that the sheer acreage involved is well over 200 acres (since the average width of the sheen we observed was at least 15 m, and 1000 acres is approximately 1 square nm or 4 square km). For oil to be clearly visible on the surface from about 1000' agl or higher, it is typically 1-10 microns thick. That implies that the volume of oil just in the sheen we tracked was at least as many gallons as it was acres, and maybe ten times that -- i.e., at least 200 gallons! (One gallon is approximately 1 acre of 1-micron thickness.)  Our motivation is that we would like the truth about the magnitude of the pollution here and elsewhere in the Gulf to be known and addressed properly, for the sake of the health and safety of all life associated with the Gulf of Mexico.

Before we get to the facts, here are some highlight photos from the Taylor slick, followed by a map of our flight route and then some highlight  photos of the sperm whale. Following that is a brief description of our flight, followed by larger photo galleries and finally the full transcription of our flight log. As always, you may download our GPS flight track file here, which will give you the details of our flight at 10-second increments (just scroll down for the file labeled with today's date). 

Very special thanks for this flight goes to supporters of Joyce Riley's radio show "The Power Hour" and to Mr. Jim Lodwick, whose recent donations we used to cover the costs of this flight. And to Brayton Matthews of Flightline First at New Orleans' Lakefront Airport, who came along as photographer and whose company has helped protect and maintain our airplane since the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf over three years ago.