New Orleans, LA – As BP settles out of court for the first phase of thousands of lawsuits that could cost the company tens of billions of dollars, a large oil sheen near the infamous Macondo 252 well has been spotted.
In September 2011, a large swath of silvery oil sheen was located roughly 19km northeast of the now-capped well.
But now, on February 29, they conducted another over-flight of the area and found a larger area of sea covered in oil sheen in the same location.
Oil trackers with the organisation On Wings of Care, who have been monitoring the new oil since mid-August 2011, have for months found rainbow-tinted slicks and thick silvery globs of oil consistently visible in the area.
“This is the same crescent shaped area of oil and sheen I’ve been seeing here since the middle of last August,” Bonny Schumaker, president and pilot of On Wings of Care, told Al Jazeera while flying over the oil.
Schumaker has logged approximately 500 hours of flight time monitoring the area around the Macondo well, and has flown scientists from NASA, the US Geological Survey (USGS), and oil chemistry scientists to observe conditions resulting from BP’s oil disaster that began in April 2010.
When flown to the area on September 11, 2011, the oil sheen was approximately 25km long and 10 to 50 metres wide, at a location roughly 19km northeast of the Macondo 252 well.
On the recent over flight, the area covered in oil sheen was approximately 35km long, and ranged from 20 to 100 metres wide in approximately the same location. At times, fumes from the oil filled the aircraft, even at an altitude of 350 metres.
Schumaker, a career physicist with NASA who retired in 2011, is deeply concerned because she has spotted oil in the same location now at least 15 times since last August.
Edward Overton, professor emeritus at Louisiana State University‘s environmental sciences department, examined data from oil samples taken from this area last September and confirmed that the oil is from the Macondo reservoir.
Experts believe the oil is likely to be from a seep in the seabed, but there is debate about what caused the seep, as many believe it may well have been caused by BP’s blowout well and the failed attempts to cap it during spring 2010.
Overton, who is also a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) contractor, said in September, “After examining the data, I think it’s a dead ringer for the MC252 [Macondo Well] oil, as good a match as I’ve seen.”
He explained that the samples were analysed and compared to “the known Macondo oil fingerprint, and it was a very, very close match”.
While not ruling out the possibility that oil could be seeping out of the giant reservoir, which would be the worst-case scenario, Overton believed the oil currently reaching the surface was probably from oil that was trapped in the damaged rigging on the seafloor.
However, given the fact that the oil sheen has existed in this area since at least as early as August 2010 and is continuing, the likelihood of it being residual oil from the Deep-water Horizon or damaged rigging is now slim.