NWF Tracking Reports of Three Separate Incidents in Gulf

Here at the National Wildlife Federation, we’ve been tracking (at times conflicting) reports about both oil and sediment spotted off Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico. This story’s still developing, and we’re frankly frustrated at the lack of solid information, but let’s try to run through what we know right now.

At this point, we’re following what are likely three different incidents in the Gulf:

  • Oil coming ashore west of the mouth of the Mississippi River near Grand Isle
  • Reports of possible oil east of the mouth of the Mississippi in Chandeleur Sound
  • A large amount of sediment mixed with a small amount of oil at the mouth of the Mississippi

First, the oil near Grand isle. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports it’s due to a new oil spill:

A Houston-based oil company has accepted responsibility for a mysterious spill near Grand Isle, although it says it remains “surprised” that what it thought was a minor discharge from a long dormant well could have produced miles-long slicks.

Several hours after The Times-Picayune broke the story that state agents had traced the oil back to a well operated by Anglo-Suisse Offshore Partners, the Houston-based company put out a statement late Tuesday night. […]

In three reports to the Coast Guard since Friday, the company had reported that less than 5 gallons of crude had escaped. But state Wildlife and Fisheries agents traced the oil to the Anglo-Suisse well at its Platform E facility on Monday afternoon and found a crew on a boat trying to close in the well with a remotely operated submarine.

The company said it had reconnected the wellhead structure Tuesday morning and fully shut it in by 8:30 p.m.

Unknown substance off Elmer's Island, LA (by NWF's Chris Pulaski)

On Monday afternoon, NWF’s Chris Pulaski took part in an overflight off Louisiana’s Elmer’s Island, not far from Grand Isle, and took the photo at right. Unfortunately, high winds prevented Chris from getting a sample of it, so we can’t be sure what he saw. SkyTruth is also raising questions about recent satellite photos taken just off Louisiana. Those photos show a dark mass well to the west of the Anglo-Suisse site, one that’s much closer to the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP).

Then there’s the Times-Picayune report of what looks like oil in Chandeluer Sound:

Even as officials tried to determine the source of weathered oil near Grand Isle, whole new swaths of what could be fresh surface oil have popped up on the other side of the Mississippi River, in the open water between the delicate coastal bayous and the sandy crescent-shaped Chandeleur barrier islands.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Steve Leeman said the Coast Guard had received no reports of oil-like material east of the river, but a group of environmentalists, engineers and scientists flew over Chandeleur Sound on Monday and Tuesday, and shared photographs and detailed descriptions with The Times-Picayune showing black, streaky plumes over a 20-mile stretch from just east of Quarantine Bay to just west of the shoal remains of Curlew Island.

As we reported earlier in the week, it looks like the sediment near the mouth of the Mississippi River contains only a small amount of oil stirred up by dredging.

Between the disheartening new reports of oil and the lack of solid information about it, you have to wonder: Why hasn’t Congress acted to protect the Gulf by implementing the recommendations of the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill?

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Published: March 23, 2011