The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports Aug. 19 that BP has denied charges that oil is again leaking from the capped Macondo well that blew out last year, destroying the Deepwater Horizon platform and fouling large stretches of the Gulf of Mexico. Company spokesman Daren Beaudo refuted claims that BP has hired vessels to contain a new “oil sheen” near the site of last year’s disaster. The reports fist emerged on the blog of New Orleans lawyer Stuart Smith, who asserted that BP had hired 40 boats to clean a new spill. It should be noted that BP’s denial contained some equivocation. From the closing paragraphs of the Times-Picayune story:
Beaudo said Coast Guard officials notified BP and several other oil companies that operate platforms or have drilled in the area in the past of the sheen reports last week.
“We inspected our operations and our assets and didn’t find anything,” Beaudo said. “But we have two plugged and abandoned wells that were drilled in the ’90s in Green Canyon Blocks 463 and 461.”
The company sent a submersible vehicle to the seafloor to inspect the two abandoned wells and found that some sort of material seemed to be leaking from the sea floor near the Block 463 site, he said.
“We think it’s silt from a subsurface shallow water pool,” Beaudo said. Records for that well indicate that it was drilled through a shallow lens of groundwater, and that may be the source of the material rising from the bottom. The company is awaiting the results of tests on samples of the material, he said.
Meanwhile, BP also reported to the response center on Aug. 16 that a light sheen was formed near its Thunder Horse platform in the Mississippi Canyon area when a small amount of oil was released with treated produced water from wells served by the platform.
Environmental writer Judson Parker fleshed out some details on Examiner.com. The original source of the reports seems to be an “anonymous captain” with the firm Vessels of Opportunity, who said BP had hired approximately 40 boats from Venice and Grand Isle to deploy booms around the Deepwater Horizon site, some 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. The fleet began its mission over the weekend to contain a growing sheen on the water near the site of the Macondo wellhead, which was declared “officially dead” on Sept. 19, 2010.
Ominously, Parker notes that earlier this year, “geohazards specialist” BK Lim (who was a featured speaker at a Gulf Oil Spill Remediation Conference in Tallahassee last August), sent a letter to US Reps. Fred Upton, chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and John Shimkus, chair of the Subcommittee on Environment and Economy, suggesting that the former site of the Deepwater Horizon may not be permanently plugged. Parker wrote:
There is no question that the oil seepages, gas columns, fissures and blowout craters in the seafloor around the Macondo wellhead… have been the direct result of indiscriminate drilling, grouting, injection of dispersant and other undisclosed recover activities. As the rogue well had not been successfully cemented and plugged at the base of the well by the relief wells, unknown quantities of hydrocarbons are still leaking out from the reservoir at high pressure and are seeping through multiple fault lines to the seabed. The continuing hydrocarbon seepage would have long term, irreversible and potentially dire consequences in the Gulf of Mexico.
On the Stuart Smith Blog, the man who started the little media splash also makes note of the unsettling whiff of obfuscation:
We are looking for clarity this morning as mainstream media outlets, including the Associated Press, are reporting that BP has admitted to “investigating a new sheen in the Gulf of Mexico.” That muffled admission is in line with what our independent sources told us, and what we reported here, yesterday: That BP has hired a fleet of boats to lay boom in the vicinity of the old Deepwater Horizon site. This morning’s AP report is brief and filled with the vagueness and “wiggle room” that we’ve have come to expect from BP’s crisis-management specialists:
LONDON (AP) – Oil giant BP says it is investigating a new sheen in the Gulf of Mexico…
BP did not make clear Thursday what the source of the new sheen was, but told The Associated Press in London it was not found near “any existing BP operations.” A sheen is a shiny coating that floats on the surface of the water, and could come from leaked or spilled oil.
London-based BP spokeswoman Sheila Williams said that “there is a lot of sheen in the Gulf of Mexico area” and that the substance did not necessarily come from a BP site or well.
If we look carefully at the language – which you can bet was meticulously edited and honed—there is nothing that would indicate that the source of the sheen is not the Macondo Well site. BP telling the AP in London that the sheen was not found near “any existing BP operations,” does not discount the Macondo Well as a possible source. Since it was capped last year, the Macondo Well would not be considered an “existing” BP operation.
Correct. Let’s hope this one is not allowed to quietly disappear down the Memory Hole…