GRN photo of spotty sheen at the Macondo well area reported to the Coast Guard in August of 2011. In September of this year, BP reported oil sheen in the vicinity of the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded in 2010 causing the largest oil disaster in U.S. history. This comes as no surprise to the GRN, as our staff and our partners On Wing of Care and SkyTruth have frequently reported seeing oil sheen in the vicinity of the Deepwater Horizon over the last year. To our relief, we have now been told by BP and the Coast Guard that the leakage is not coming from the original Macondo well area including the wreckage, debris, relief wells, and the riser on the sea floor. Instead, it is probably coming from the containment dome that was discarded when it failed to stop the flow of oil from the BP Horizon.
What I find galling is that a piece of garbage left behind by BP is now fouling the Gulf. The Coast Guard press releases states that “ the ROV video showed apparent oil globules leaking from the containment dome at approximately 15 globules per minute, which is estimated to be less than 100 gallons per day” and that the sheen was “non-recoverable” but posed no risk to the coast. Although this may sound small, a 100 gallons per day comes to 36,500 gallons per year – not a small amount of oil in my opinion. And, that oil poses a risk to the health of the marine life (whales, turtles, fish) that travel through or live in that area. Hasn’t BP done enough harm? And, more importantly isn’t anyone going to require them to fully clean up the mess they have made?
I know that many may say that this continuing release is no bigger than some natural seeps. But that is not the point. This is not a natural seep. It is a man-made pollution source that needs to be addressed. To avoid future contamination, BP or its contractors should be required to remove the containment dome and any other garbage that may pose the threat of continuing releases of oil or other contamination.
Sadly, this is not the first example of an attitude, by BP and even the Coast Guard that the residents of the Gulf are just going to have to learn to live with oil pollution in the wake of the BP disaster. As Jonathan Henderson, GRN Coastal Resiliency Organizer, has documented many areas of the Gulf Coast continue to suffer from tar balls and tar mats. The State of Louisiana has also documented the continuing pollution of its shores by oil released during the BP drilling disaster. In fact, the State accused the Coast Guard of prematurely releasing BP from having to fully clean up the oil that reached the State’s shores.
We cannot allow the Gulf to simply become a sacrifice zone. BP must be required to keeps it promise to fully clean up its mess, whether that mess remains on the ocean floor, on our barrier islands or in our wetlands.
Cynthia Sarthou is GRN's Executive Director.