Bird’s Eye View: Have You Seen This?

A couple of days ago, I was contacted by Caroline Douglas of the organization Southwings, a conservation and public benefit aviation non-profit that provides skilled pilots and aerial education to enhance conservation efforts across the Southeast. Caroline was offering to arrange a flyover for me to document a recent oil sighting near Venice, Louisiana. You may recall reports last week that a fisherman discovered a several miles long slick and that efforts were underway to find whether it was BP oil resurfacing from last year’s blowout. By week’s end, our friends at the National Wildlife Federation had already determined that the oil near Venice was not from the BP disaster. They were able to retrieve a sample from the fisherman and have it tested at a lab at LSU, which concluded it was not oil from BP’s Macondo well. You can see NWF’s report here.I was also given last week several coordinates in and around the Delta National Wildlife Refuge and Breton Island where fishermen had recently reported seeing an oil sheen. When my pilot, Lance Rydberg, contacted the FAA Friday morning to register our flight plan, we were notified that a TFR or Temporary Flight Restriction was in place over an area encompassing one of these coordinates near Breton Island. When asked why the need for a TFR, the FAA referred us to the Coast Guard. We contacted the Coast Guard and were informed that there were UAV’s flying in the area. UAV’s are Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, commonly known as drones. Well, this seemed very intriguing so, with special clearance to enter the TFR in hand, we decided to bypass the Venice location and to make our way to Breton Sound. While no oil was spotted (or UAV’s) at the coordinates we had been given, I was able to spot a definite oil leak stretching for a couple of miles from a well-head in Breton Sound at N 29 31.49; W089 20.0. Check out these photos to see the leak:In addition to the leaking well-head, I was able to see sheen in other parts of Breton Island but could not isolate the precise location. Upon returning to my office that afternoon, I filed a report with the National Response Center, the sole federal point of contact for reporting oil and chemical spills. A little later that day I was contacted by a Petty Officer from the Coast Guard whom I supplied with photos and coordinates to assist in their investigation. I also contacted several media outlets, including Fox8 New Orleans who came to the office to cover the story. You can check out Fox8’s reort here.Friday’s discovery was one of several leaks unrelated to the BP disaster that I have found since I began conducting monitoring trips from the air last April, shortly after the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank, leaking at least 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf ecosystem. I have also documented leaks coming from oil waste storage facilities that are in the path of the Mississippi River flood. These frequent discoveries from the air beg the question: how many incidents are out there, how many actually get reported, and how many simply go unnoticed, allowing responsible parties to get away with it? That is why GRN is helping to lead the fight in Congress for a Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council to promote environmental safety amongst the oil industry as well as inform the public. People with the most to lose from oil pollution must have a voice in the decisions that put their livelihoods and communities at risk. Please take a moment to help in that fight by sending your member of Congress this letter.Jonathan Henderson is the Coastal Resiliency Organizer for GRN.

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