Gulf Restoration Network

United for a Healthy Gulf

Blogging for a Healthy Gulf
Aaron Viles
BP Oil Drilling Disaster: Spill Comes Ashore, Booms Ineffective
Friday, 30 April 2010 05:57

booms prove ineffective
oil washes over multiple=
photos courtesy AP.

As the oil is pushed ashore by strong winds, booms are showing their limitations.  We're glad to see federal military resources being brought to this slow motion tragedy, but we're going to need more help, as this fragile ecosystem is hammered by the river of oil, still uncontrolled, coming ashore.  Looking at the recent maps, it's clear Louisiana will take the initial brunt as weather brings the sheen and worse into marsh area to the East of the mouth of the Mississippi River, but we're receiving reports of sheen as far up as Lafitte on the West Bank of the river. 

We welcome Administrator Lisa Jackson of the EPA, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to the area to investigate and observe the crisis, and we're relieved to hear that this accident will allow current plans for off-shore drilling expansion to be reconsidered.

Aaron Viles is GRN's campaign director

Aaron Viles
BP Oil Drilling Disaster: More Shots from Space
Thursday, 29 April 2010 17:52

slick from space

We can see it from space, and we can smell it from New Orleans. 

Aaron Viles
BP Oil Drilling Disaster: New Shots from the Sheen
Thursday, 29 April 2010 08:59

Our friends at Greenpeace captured some images of cleanup at the surface of the oil plume, which has been revised upward to a flow rate of over 200,000 gallons a day.  Finally some cleanup is being done, but with weather conditions anticipated to get worse, unlikely this will be able to continue.  Unsure if attempts to burn will move forward.  Click the photo to see the whole set.

Aaron Viles is GRN's campaign director

Nick Poggioli
Deepwater Spill Experiment Refutes BP/Government Excuses
Wednesday, 28 April 2010 22:48

BP and the Coast Guard should have been more prepared to deal with a deepwater oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The following summary of a year 2000 intentional deepwater oil spill research experiment undercuts the Coast Guard's claims that the Deepwater Horizon spill is something that no one could have been prepared for.

The following summary of the DeepSpill Joint Industry Project—an intentional deepwater oil spill experiment in 2000—suggests that BP and the Coast Guard should have been more prepared to deal with the “unique challenges” of a deepwater spill. The funding of the study indicates that oil companies and the US government were thinking about the problem of deepwater spills over a decade ago. Why then have the Coast Guard, BP and Transocean seemed so unprepared in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon?

“The array of strategies underscores the unusual nature of the leak. Pipelines have ruptured and tankers have leaked, but a well 5,000 feet below the water’s surface poses new challenges,” officials said.

“This adds a new dimension for us,” Admiral Landry said. “We haven’t had a well release like this.”1

The DeepSpill project was undertaken to test and improve existing deepwater spill models and was funded by 21 oil companies and the US government via the Minerals Management Service. While the DeepSpill test occurred at depths shallower than the Deepwater Horizon, oil companies and the US government would not have funded this experiment unless they were concerned about the need to understand deepwater spills. It therefore seems untenable for the Coast Guard to claim that the Deepwater Horizon spill “adds a new dimension for us.” Why then have the Coast Guard, BP and Transocean seemed so unprepared to respond to this spill?

The full brief examines

  1. Key observations from the DeepSpill project that should have been incorporated in plans to respond to a deepwater spill,
  2. Whether the plan to burn the oil at the surface of the Gulf is feasible given mixing of water and oil in the water column, and
  3. How oil and gas development expansion in the Gulf has greatly complicated responding to spills.
Read the full brief here .


Nick Poggioli is GRN's Campus Organizer


1Robertson, C. and Kaufman, L. “Oil Spill May Threaten Wildlife Near Louisiana.” New York Times, April 28, 2010. Available at

Aaron Viles
BP Oil Drilling Disaster: Spill 5 Times Worse Than First Thought
Wednesday, 28 April 2010 21:02

Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry admitted tonight that the BP oil drilling disaster is pumping over 200,000 gallons of oil a day into the Gulf.  Given that the rig sank on the 22nd, we can now estimate that somewhere close to 1.5 million gallons of oil have been released into the Gulf.  This spill will likely be bigger than the Exxon Valdez, if we estimate the time to drill the relief wells and seal the cavity at a hopefulBP Oil Drilling Disaster - map for May 28 10 weeks. 

I've learned that there was a dispute between resource agencies in the joint command center and BP over the spill estimate, and has been brewing for days.  This underscores our concerns that BP is influencing this spin on this oil drilling disaster, and obfuscating the truth to protect their brand.  We remain terrified about the impact of this disaster, as it's clear that there are not enough containment resouces (such as miles of boom) to effectively protect the Gulf coast.

Aaron Viles is GRN's campaign coordinator

Aaron Viles
BP Oil Drilling Disaster - Help Protect Marine Wildlife
Wednesday, 28 April 2010 15:49

take-action-bp-oil-drilling-disasterIt was just two days before Earth Day, and a few weeks after President Obama's call to increase drilling in off-shore areas, when an oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, 45 miles off of Louisiana's coast, near the Breton and Delta National Wildlife Refuges.

Tragically, it appears that 11 missing crewmembers have been killed.  In addition to the human tragedy, the environmental crisis is unfolding as I type this.

The massive oil slick has grown to over 2,000 square miles.  It hasn't come aground in sensitive coastal areas yet, but it is only a matter of time.  The marine impacts could be enormous due to the massive volume of the leak, currently estimated at 42,000 gallons a day.  

The area of the spill is important habitat for endangered sperm whales, many species of threatened and endangered sea turtles, the Gulf's mysterious whale shark population, and is close to blue fin tuna spawning grounds.  This is an environmental disaster of epic proportions.

We need the President to demand that every appropriate federal agency is helping monitor and study the marine impacts while cleaning up the mess in the shortest possible time.  It's also time to reconsider expanding oil drilling on our coasts.

Oil giant BP holds the drilling lease, and is funding the clean-up.  Unfortunately, we believe the response has been inadequate.  We flew over the accident site Sunday and Monday, and didn't see any active skimming or oil boom deployment.  Now, BP and federal officials are using an experimental controlled burn technique that has never been attempted in similar circumstances. For the marine impacts to be quantified and minimized, we need all hands on deck and on the water.  

This catastrophe makes it clear that companies like BP and government officials don't have a safe and effective plan for dealing with the consequences of more and more offshore drilling. Help us urge the Obama administration to demand more of a response at the spill site, and ask him to reconsider opening more coastal areas up for these types of catastrophes.

Aaron Viles is GRN's Campaign Director

Raleigh Hoke
Oil Spills in the Gulf: Not the First, Not the Last
Wednesday, 28 April 2010 15:28

As the consequences from the massive BP oil drilling disaster in the Gulf continue to unfold, proponents of increased offshore drilling have remained remarkably silent about how “safe and environmentally friendly” offshore drilling can be.  However, some drilling supporters do like to point out how rarely accidents like this occur.

Oil drilling disasters of this magnitude may not happen all that often, but, when they do, the consequences are truly devastating and it’s becoming increasingly clear that government and oil industry officials do not have adequate plans in place for dealing with them.  Furthermore, every year accidents claim workers’ lives and cause the discharge of thousands of gallons of oil and other toxic materials into the Gulf of Mexico. According to statistics on drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf from the Minerals Management Service, there have been 172 spills in the Gulf of at least 2,100 gallons in the last ten years. In 2008 alone, 125,034 gallons of oil and other toxic materials were accidently discharged! Sadly, 65 individuals have lost their lives working offshore in the Gulf during that same period.

These smaller spills and accidents may not make national news, but they still have real and lasting consequences for those injured or killed, and the health of the Gulf of Mexico. Check out more information on past oil spills and accidents in the Gulf here.

Raleigh Hoke is GRN's Mississippi Organizer

Aaron Viles
Controlled Burn Considered for Gulf Spill
Tuesday, 27 April 2010 20:59

Not quite sure how to respond to this just yet.  Today's daily briefing from the Unified Command rolled out this idea.  It's terrifying on its face, lighting up a 2,000 square mile area of the Gulf that's being expanded by uncontrolled, twin gysers of oil from the sea floor 5,000 feet down.

More details are necessary to sort out how this would work, and why it's preferable to increased clean up and containment efforts at the spill site coordinated with protective boom deployment at the coastline where it will eventuallly come ashore.  In the two flyovers GRN has taken in the last two days, we've been astounded by the lack of activity at the spill surface.  Both on Sunday and Monday, in seemingly good weather, no skimming was seen, and no boom deployment was taking place.  Despite all the claims of the resources being marshalled by BP and directed by the Coast Guard, the only sea surface containment efforts consisted of two planes dropping chemical dispersant. 

Our concern remains the marine mammal populations in the area, the potential impacts to bluefin tuna spawning, and the Gulf's threatened and endangered sea turtle species.

Here's the current track of the spill, just 20 miles from the Bird's Foot Delta of the Louisiana coast:

Unified Command's map of BP oil drilling accident slick

Aaron Viles is GRN's campaign director

Raleigh Hoke
Gulf Oil Spill - As Seen from Space
Tuesday, 27 April 2010 13:52

The massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continues to grow at a disturbing rate and the latest news from BP officials isn't exactly reassuring.  In fact, the chief operating officer of BP Exploration and Production said that they intend to lower a huge dome over the ocean bottom to capture the leaking oil.  This process could take weeks and, according to a company spokesperson, "has never been deployed" at this depth!

As of Tuesday morning, the oil slick was reported to be 80 miles across and 48 miles long, and even a couple of days ago, the spill was already visible from space (photo below).



Photo Courtesy of NASA/MODIS Response Team

Raleigh Hoke is GRN's Mississippi Organizer.

Aaron Viles
Gulf Oil Catastrophe - GRN's View from Above
Monday, 26 April 2010 10:57

oilspill Yesterday I was able to fly out over the BP oil spill site, thanks to our partners at Southwings, and pilot Tom Hutchings out of Fairhope, AL.

We were shocked at what we saw.  The main spill was at least 8 miles across, creating a kind of peninsula from what was presumably the site of the rig explostion and stretching for 45 miles, in a Northeastern and Southeastern direction.

The crude at the surface of the Gulf has been churned into a 'chocolate mousse' material that was easy to spot from our altitude of 4,000 feet. The mousse covered approximately 100 square miles, and then faded into a heavy, then light sheen, which faded about 20 miles from the Chandeleur Islands, critical bird nesting and migration habitat.

The containment and cleanup efforts were obviously inadequate to deal with the scale and scope of the ongoing spill.  Despite claims of dozens of boats called to action, we saw three airplanes dropping a chemical dispersant onto the spill, and it was like an eye dropper on a forest fire.  Yesterdays weather was beautiful and clear, yet no boats were actively skimming, and no booms had been laid down to contain or absorb the oil.  If what we saw is an indication of the ongoing response, BP and the Coast Guard need to be challenged by the highest levels of authority.

oilspill2As we approached the spill sight Tom spotted some sort of marine wildlife, which since seen at that altitude was most likely one of the members of the pod of sperm whales that feed in the area.  This underscores the threat of this spill to wildlife.  The spill and sheen area is used by a wealth of amazing animals, including whale sharks, many different species of threatened and endangered sea turtles, dolphins, porpoises and sea birds.  Unfortunately, this is also the time of year that the critically threatened Western Atlantic bluefin tuna schools enter the Gulf, their only known spawning grounds.

We have a report that the first efforts by the remote operated sub to close the blowout preventer valve have failed, but that efforts continue.  If the valve fails to function, we are left with two more steps to contain, then stop the spill.  First, positioning an underwater dome over the spill site, to allow BP to vacuum up the oil more effectively, while more drilling rigs are brought into the area to drill relief wells to pump in mud and concrete and seal the well.  The dome hasn't ever been used at these depths though, and the timelines for the relief well option aren't attractive.  The Austrailian spill last year took over two months to staunch, while a similar accident in the Mexican portion of the Gulf took approximately ten months to stop. 

At the current spill rate, we may be looking at more than 3 million gallons of oil pumped into the Gulf if relief wells are necessary.

It's critical that NOAA, the Coast Guard and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with their state partners in Mississippi and Louisiana signficantly scale up their efforts to monitor, assess, and mitigate the spill impacts on marine wildlife, both in the short and very long term.  BP is footing the bill, but we need to make sure the federal and state agencies are demanding and receiving the resources they need to protect the Gulf.

For more pictures from the flight, click here.

Aaron Viles is GRN's campaign director.

Please consider making a contribution to GRN to help us have the resources for our monitoring and advocacy in the face of this environmental catastrophe.



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BP's Oil Drilling Disaster - Take Action

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