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2014 June 18 and 22
12 miles offshore from the tip of Louisiana
The “Taylor Energy” oil slick — a chronic 10-year-running severe oil pollution site

Barely 12 miles off the tip of Louisiana in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico lies a semi-permanent, large, poisonous oil slick.  It has been renewing itself daily since it first appeared in the summer of 2004, when Hurricane Ivan destroyed an oil production platform together with several tens of active pipelines.  There is no end in sight for this ongoing sickening pollution.  The blame lies primarily with imprudent drilling practices, not by a single corporation but by most if not all of the oil and gas industry. Put most simply, the wells in this area, most of which were put in place prior to the 1990s, were drilled too vertically and in too close proximity to each other.  And, like most other wells in the Gulf of Mexico, they are located in the natural paths of hurricanes.  The seafloor in this area is covered with mud, and underwater mudslides are the rule, not the exception. The end result is a chronic pollution crisis that threatens anyone near enough to see, smell, taste, or contact it with a life-threatening dose of hydrocarbon poisoning. To those of us who fly offshore regularly, its site is a frequent reminder of what an even larger area looked like after the 2010 BP disaster.

We have documented this pollution site from the air for over four years in articles on the OnWingsOfCare.org website and elsewhere, and we have provided aerial spotting support to scientists and engineers studying the site and ways to address the problem. On these two recent flights, we provided aerial guidance to scientists collecting samples of fresh and weathered oil from various locations in this area (June 18) and taking specialized aerial photos and videos to study properties of the oil (June 22). Results of these missions, like those before, will be published in scientific journals and publicly accessible websites, presented at scientific conferences, and used by government agencies as well as oil and gas companies.  With the permission of these scientists, we are continuing our practice of sharing some of these photos and videos with the public.  We know that citizens can only be as effective as they are well-informed, and the only way that our oceans will be preserved as healthy natural habitat for years to come is if a majority of human beings are informed and take action, whether directly or indirectly through effecting prudent legislation.

Here are maps showing the location of this site and these two recent flyovers.  At the end of this article we’ve reprinted our Flight Log for June 22, which covered roughly the same areas as the June 18 flyover except that the slick had moved somewhat, as it does regularly according to winds, sea currents, and weather.  Stormy weather between June 18 and June 22 had caused the appearance of the slick to change also, primarily in that less weathered oil had accumulated on the surface.

 

20140411 Friday
Barrier Islands Tour, Gulf Coast

Today was a long day of flying over the Gulf of Mexico! But good weather windows like this are hard to miss, and we also had some very special people who had been waiting for a chance to get their first look at some of the Barrier Islands off the coasts of Mississippi and Louisiana. Of special interest to them also was some dredging going on toward th east end of coastal Mississippi, around Round Island and Singing River Island.  On the flight we caught a brief glimpse of Ship Island and also gave them a quick tour of the Chandeleurs. South of the Chandeleurs we were treated to the site of a pod of more than 10 dolphins, including a couple of juveniles.  

Here are some of our favorite photos, thanks to Terese Collins and Vernon Asper.  These are followed by a few Google Earth maps showing where all of these islands are, and more photos are in the galleries below.  Enjoy!

 

2014 April 11 Friday
Taylor Energy Slick off the coast of Louisiana

On our way back from studying  natural seeps far off shore today (see that story here),  we couldn't resist flying over the infamous Taylor Energy pollution site less than 15 miles off the coast of Louisiana. We've published many articles and countless photos and videos of this desperately sad chronic, vast oil slick whose origin dates back to Hurricane Ivan in 2004.  We've talked at length with the US Coast Guard and government experts on the status of this pollution site and the work that has been done over the past ten years to mitigate it, and we understand the explanations that not much more can be done to stop it at this point. With USCG permission, we will publish more on that in the future. In the meantime, however, we continue to monitor it, and we will continue to share photos or videos with the public on a periodic basis. Suffice it to say, however, that it continues to loom large and ugly, a miles-long barrier between the muddy waters of the Sound and the green waters beyond.

We have a selection of photos taken both from the aircraft windows (obliquely) and the aircraft belly (vertically). As with the natural seeps, scientists like the nadir-viewing photos for studying properties of the oil. We like them because they offer such different views from those we're used to seeing when we look out from a boat or out and down from an aircraft.  The first photos below are of the oil at the Taylor Slick. Below those, we've collected some of the nicer photos of sargassum along today's route, as well as a few special sites such as a huge colony of egrets on one of the few remaining sizable coastal islands, and some interesting pictures of another offshore drilling platform, the "Deepwater Champion."  Enjoy!

 

2014 March 19 Wednesday
Island and coastal tour of eastern Louisiana

The interlude between end of the  work day and sunset and some clear skies gave us just enough time for a quick tour of the Chandeleur Islands and the eastern coastal areas of Louisiana.  Our special guests today were people whose life work involves aerial monitoring of ecological systems throughout North America and living close to the land in rural Wisconsin. The wetlands and coastal islands of Louisiana were a new and fascinating study for them, and they were even so fortunate as to see a small pod of adult and juvenile dolphins frolicking near the Chandeleurs.  Here is a map showing our clockwise tour.

20140319-CoastalTour-MapLarge1

The Chandeleur islands are always a thrill to see, although each flyover also reveals their continuing diminution in size, a poignant reminder of their fragility and vulnerability to erosion and storms. It is sobering to think that one day we may see only sandbars where we now still can find long stretches of beach with beautiful plant life and inland ponds.  To the south of the Chandeleurs, Breton Island stands as a clear reminder of how much land has been lost, the site of what once was a busy research facility now a circle barely visible as it fades into the shallows.  The shallow waters outside these islands teem with dolphin, sharks, cobia, mullet, and large bait balls, and the beaches are filled with birds.

 

2014 April 11 Friday
Lease Block Green Canyon 600 area -- Natural Gas/Oil Seeps
Gulf of Mexico 

Today we re-visited this area located almost 200 miles south of New Orleans in the Gulf of Mexico that is famous for its sea floor.  Not because of its exotic beauty or fascinating marine life, but for its cracks, from which emanate massive plumes of gas and oil. Two of these seafloor openings exude such strong streams of oil and oil-coated gas bubbles that scientists have nicknamed them "MegaPlume" and "Birthday Candles" after how they look in underwater camera footage. This is the Lease Block known as Green Canyon 600. A research vessel named "Atlantis" was there this week, carrying several scientists who have studied these plumes for years. They had with them a small boat called the "Avon" which they wanted to use to take surface oil samples from the area. We were there to direct the crew of the small sampling boat to those areas, because as you can see from the photos below, and as anyone who has attempted to find oil or marine life solely from a surface vessel, there is no substitute for "a look from above" for seeing the big picture of where things are.  

Here are a couple of  photos just to give you a sense of the scale of this seep area.  The Atlantis is 274 ft long; the little Avon is about 14 ft long.  The surface oil lines stretch for several nautical miles!

This Google Earth map showing our flight path also shows icons which refer to the sightings described in our Flight Log appended below.  You'll see the usual red circles denoting oil (circles with lines through them refer to surface oil that is a pollution incident, not a natural seep) as well as other icons denoting extraordinarily large patches or lines of sargassum as well as sightings of whales, sharks, turtles, large fish groups, large dolphin pods, and so on. Unfortunately, on today's flight we saw some fish groups (bait balls) and lots of sargassum, but we did not see any large marine life. We expect that is for two reasons: One, it is still early in the year for large marine life to be returning to feed in the Gulf; and Two, being that we were looking for surface oil, it's not much surprise that we would not find much marine life near those areas.  What never fails to surprise us, though, is just how many areas we find with substantial surface oil sheen.