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2011 May 14 Saturday

Brownish-red  subsurface plumes remain, and there is a 10-square-mile sheen around the defunct Ocean Saratoga platform.

Since showing you seven weeks ago the dramatically disturbing sights of brownish-red subsurface plumes and streamers spanning many tens of miles southwestward along the western shores of the Chandeleurs and Breton island (March 22) and a 10-mile wide, 30-mile long east-west stretch south of Grand Isle (March 23), we have revisited these areas three times -- April 21, April 23, and May 14.  Although these subsequent flyovers have been brief and without our previous video and camera crews, they have been  sufficient to show that:

1) the strange brownish-red plumes are still present in some areas west and southwest of the Chandeleurs, but they appear much less dense; and

2) surface sheen extends for at least 10 square nautical miles around the defunct Ocean Saratoga rig, located approximately 12 nm south of the southern tip of Louisiana (South Pass).

There has been no statement from the USCG or any other agency advising the public what all that brownish-red stuff was nor where it originated.  However, we have learned for ourselves what was in it:  relatively unweathered oil that was a close match to MC252 BP oil (the Deepwater Horizon incident of 2010 April 20), containing high concentrations of toxic polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). This is concluded from samples taken by boat on March 28 around Breton Island (Plaquemine Parish, Louisiana; coordinates 29.492667°, -89.171501°), by volunteers from the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.  Thanks to funding from New Orleans resident Stuart H. Smith, complete laboratory analyses were carried out by the Boston Chemical Data Corporation and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.  A full report of the of the laboratory findings may be found here,  and an article summarizing these results may be found here; an excerpt from this article by Stuart Smith is included below. 

On a flyover by us on April 21 (see our report here), and again on April 23, the plumes appeared to be dispersed and faded in color.  The most distinct sheets of it still remained around Breton Island at the southwest end of the Chandeleurs.  Winds had been and still were were high and the water very choppy, which affected the phenomena as it did our ability to photo-document.

We made another flyover this past Saturday May 14.  We followed the Chandeleurs southward to Breton Island and then out to the site of a non-operational offshore platform known to have had a serious 'spill' in the spring of 2010, the Ocean Saratoga, located about 12 miles south of the southern tip of Louisiana (from South Pass).   We found more of those reddish-brown subsurface plumes west of the Chandeleurs.  Not as dark or dramatic as those documented in late March, and much more dispersed in appearance , but nonetheless distinct and obviously unusual to the naked eye.  We also saw unmistakable surface sheen around the Ocean Saratoga.  Thumbnails are shown here; a high-definition video and higher-resolution photos are included in the galleries below.  Unfortunately we were late in the day and with no camera except a small digital point-and-shoot, but even with that, you will see these clearly.  They are quite distinguishable from the darker cloud shadows across the water and obviously not associated with isolated convergence lines.

NOTE:  Unless noted, no photos or video provided by On Wings Of Care are "photoshopped" or otherwise altered in any way that could degrade accurate interpretation of what we observed.

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After the video and photo gallery below, we are including an excerpt from Stuart Smith's summary of the sampling and laboratory findings.  Here are some notes on the gallery photos, which are shown in the order in which they were taken:  

As we flew southward about 10 nm west of the chandeleurs, I noticed long dark-colored streaks.  Not occasional rip or convergence lines (as you see in image number 3146 toward the end), and definitely not cloud shadows.  I supposed these could be sediment coming out of the Mississippi -- except that they didn't appear until we were well south of the Sound, and they were more of an isolated set of bands.  Also, their color didn't look quite right, I thought I saw some brownish or reddish tones.  But it was already 5pm, the sun was low, the water was far from smooth as we had strong northerly winds, and I didn't want to jump to conclusions.  So we just kept flying.  And I kept following these strange-looking lines.  Until we got close, really close, and we got into some areas of clear skies where the lighting was better -- and then we saw that the reddish color was real.  Apologies that you can't see what we saw, because the only camera we had was my very old and inexpensive point-and-shoot digital camera.  But it was plenty to show you the likes of what we were seeing.  It looked to be a faded, sparse version of the ugly stuff we saw in this area in late March.

We then headed away from these lines, directly for Breton Island and then on to the non-operational platform Ocean Saratoga, infamous for its having leaked huge amounts of oil into the Gulf a year ago, while the Macondo well was getting all the attention.  On our way there we saw a typical long 'convergence' or rip line; you'll see that in image 3146; it is distinctly different from the reddish-brown lines seen earlier.  And you'll see a few shots of that active rookery, surrounded only 7 weeks ago by extremely dark, thick reddisih-brown hunk.  Today it looked quite 'normal.'

Between Breton Island and the Ocean Saratoga, we passed sargassum weed floating in a convergence line.  I have included these images here to show that this is definitely sargassum, even though it resembles the patches of floating weathered crude we photographed all over the Gulf last summer.

Reaching the Ocean Saratoga, the sheen to its west is quite evident.  It extends at least 3-4 nm north to south and at least 2 nm west to east.  Looking back at it as we flew northward toward home, it left a pit in my stomach as I recalled the miles on miles on miles of that ugly rainbow sheen we witnessed last summer.  Enough is enough.  Stay tuned for some video from today, which (I hope) will be of much better quality than these small photos!

Excerpted from the article by Stuart Smith:   

"From Paul Orr:

By the time we made it to Breton Island the skies had cleared and the sun was shining brightly. The island was alive with spectacular flocks of birds. The spring bird migration is in full swing in coastal Louisiana. Unfortunately the birds were sharing the island with oil. Long trails of heavily oiled sand and scattered tarballs were found spread along the center of the island. The larger oil “patties” were 10 to 12 or more inches in diameter and looked like dark brown sugar with extra molasses mixed in on the inside but smelled like tar.

The beach sample Mr. Orr and his team took is remarkable, according to civil engineer Marco Kaltofen, because it contains crude oil that appears only slightly weathered – a puzzling finding in light of the fact that the Macondo Well was capped last July. The test results on the recent sample (taken March 28) look more like those from original oil seen in the early days of the spill, instead of the heavily weathered and degraded oil we’ve come to expect in recent days. But again, multiple observers reported on-the-surface oil slicks at the time of sampling.

The entire laboratory report from ALS Environmental is 20 pages of some of the most technically proficient data we’ve seen since the beginning of the spill in April of last year (see report below). The total petroleum hydrocarbons in the beach sands were present at 49,373 PPM (or parts per million). Total polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were found at more than 58 PPM. These PAHs are among the most toxic and persistent of the components of the BP oil spill.

According to veteran toxicologist Dr. William Sawyer:

Benzo(a)pyrene and benzo(b)fluoranthene levels in this sediment from Breton Islands are above the USEPA RSLs (without even adding all of the carcinogen TEQs together). And BP has completed their “cleanup”? Certainly high potential for bioaccumulation into commercial seafood, reproduction impairment (oysters) and human contact hazards. This sample on land would require remediation as it is no cleaner than highly contaminated oil field properties.

A forensic analysis was conducted on this sample to fingerprint the material in order to determine if it was BP Macondo Well oil. Eleven of thirteen known biomarkers for BP’s oil were found in the proper diagnostic ratio. Thus, this sample is a fingerprint match for BP oil.

The high levels of toxicity we found in this March 28 Breton Island beach sample have renewed our dedication to demanding a complete cleanup of our beaches, barrier islands, shoreline and marshes. We must hold BP accountable. Everything from human health to seafood safety to the healthy migration and nesting of seabirds hangs in the balance.

Here are the sample and test results:

Breton Island National Park – Sampling and Testing Data
Sampled by Paul Orr, Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper
Breton Island, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana
March 28, 2011 at 14:10
LATITUDE:  29.492667°
LONGITUDE: -89.171501°
Sample ID: DWH663B/LMRK064
Tested by ALS Environmental in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Breton Island Lab Report

Read more about the important work of the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper, and its parent the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN):

Read more about pilot Bonny Schumaker and the ongoing enviro efforts of On Wings of Care:

© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – All Rights Reserved   "