Guest Post: Photos Show Oil At BP’s Deepwater Horizon Gulf Spill Site

By Washington’s Blog

BP Gulf Oil Spill: Leaking Again?

I noted on Thursday that billion dollar verdict winner trial attorney Stuart Smith alleges that his contacts say BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil well is leaking again.

Smith notes today:

Hours after we posted our initial report on Wednesday, the Associated Press in London ran a story that BP admitted to “investigating a new sheen in the Gulf of Mexico,” but that it was not near “any existing BP operations.”

Only hours after the AP story hit, the Times-Picayune out of New Orleans (my home town) ran an article stating BP’s outright denial. From Mark Schleifstein’s article (posted Aug. 18 at 1:47 p.m.):

No oil is leaking from the capped Macondo well that blew out last year, destroying the Deepwater Horizon floating platform and killing 11 workers, a BP spokesman said Thursday.

BP also has not hired any vessels to clean up any oil in that area of the Gulf of Mexico, said spokesman Daren Beaudo.

A report in a blog written by trial lawyer Stuart Smith of New Orleans on Wednesday claimed that the well was leaking and that BP had hired 40 boats to clean the mess.

A flurry of allegations and denials ensued. “None of this is true,” BP said in a statement. “We inspected our operations and our assets and didn’t find anything,” said BP spokesman Daren Beaudo.

We knew better than to expect any sort of candid response from BP or the Coast Guard who after all denied oil was leaking for a full week after the DH rig sank last year, so we were very pleased when Bonny Schumaker from the California-based nonprofit On Wings of Care (see link to website below) agreed to do a flyover. She took a four-hour flight out to the Deepwater Horizon site yesterday (Aug. 19) with Gulf Restoration Network (GRN) photographers Jonathan Henderson and Tarik Zawia.

They spotted oil – lots of it. So we now have damning photos of oil in the water at the “exact location” of the Deepwater Horizon. Clearly, BP has some explaining to do.


Photos from Jonathan Henderson of the Gulf Restoration Network. The caption for the three photos reads: Oily substance on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico in Mississippi Canyon Block 252. While there were no boats or other structures in the vicinity today, rainbow and brown tinted formations could be seen covering the area where BP’s Macondo well is located and the Deepwater Horizon platform exploded and sank in April of 2010. The coordinates are N28 44.20, 88 23.23W.

We will be sampling oil from the scene as soon as possible to establish a chemical fingerprint, which will determine the oil’s origin.

Gulf Restoration Network reports:

First, we spotted oil on the surface above the exact location where the Deepwater Horizon and Macondo well are located, in Mississippi Canyon Block 252. Take a look at the captions in the photos for coordinates. Obviously, from the air I cannot confirm that the oil is BP’s and from there Macondo well. I can only report that I spotted oil above that location. I reported this to the National Response Center and had a lengthy conversation with a Coast Guard official. Notice that the oil seems to be clustered in round formations. I have no idea why or how this could happen and neither could the USGC official. The formations are clearly rainbow in color and in some cases have also a brownish tint. Take a look:

Here’s the slideshow.

And see these videos and photos from Wings of Care.

Giant Oil Production Ship Back In Area

Also suspicious, a giant oil production ship is back at the scene of the oil spill.

Smith reports:

The Helix Producer I, a massive oil production vessel, is back in the area where the Deepwater Horizon rig sank to the sea floor – roughly 170 miles northeast of where BP officially lists its location. Perhaps you recall that the Helix, with the capacity to process 45,000 barrels of oil a day, helped capture oil spewing from the runaway Macondo Well last summer.


So why is there an enormous oil production vessel currently parked atop the Macondo field? What’s it doing if there’s no leak and no oil?

On Wings of Care pilot Bonny Schumaker and two photographers, Jonathan Henderson and Tarik Zawia, from the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN) caught the Helix on film Friday (Aug. 19). From Schumaker’s Aug. 19 post-flight report (see link to full report below):

Heading toward the DH site (9111), we came across an interesting vessel known as “Helix”, and noted that their submerged equipment must have been about as deep as they could put it, for their cable was run out to the max. If you look at our gps map, the waypoint position for the “Helix” was number 9114 in the screen shot of our gps map below. (The gps file will tell you that the photo was taken from about 600′ above the water at lat/longs 28° 42.160′N, -088° 35.994′W.)

Photo credit to On Wings of Care and Jonathan Henderson at the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN).

According to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, the Helix Producer I “is a ship-shaped monohull floating production and offloading vessel. …It has no storage capability.” At 530 feet long and 95 feet wide, it’s hard to hide – even in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.

As of Aug. 17 (the most recent location date), has the Helix stationary at Lat/Lon: 27.730009/-91.108063; Speed/Course: 0 kn/276°. Those coordinates put it roughly 170 miles southwest of where Bonny Schumaker and her team spotted it Aug. 19 – atop the Macondo field very close to where one of the relief wells was drilled by the vessel Development Driller III.

In the absence of any clue from BP or the Coast Guard, here are a few possible tasks the Helix could be performing:

1. Collecting oil from the sea floor and pumping it into barges at the surface;
2. Working to remotely seal a leak on the sea floor; or
3. Looking for the source of a leak with remotely operated vehicles (ROVs).

Our sources tell us, the Helix is most likely searching for the source of a leak with ROVs. That would explain why the submergence cable was run out nearly to the bare spool (as you can see in the photos). It seems plausible that the vessel is looking for the source of the oil that’s surfacing nearby.

Schumaker makes other curious observations in her report that further suggest something’s amiss:

We also saw some very strange expanses of greenish linear plumes, each maybe 300 feet wide and separated from the next one by about that same distance, running south to north (roughly). …We also came across an unusual ‘string’ of buoys, apparently anchored; some sort of sounding measurements? As we reached the DH site, we began to see numerous collections and lines of those strange-looking globules in what was otherwise smooth blue water (waypoints 9114-9117).

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George Washington is the head writer at Washington’s Blog. A busy professional and former adjunct professor, George’s insatiable curiousity causes him to write on a wide variety of topics, including economics, finance, the environment and politics. For further details, ask Keith Alexander…


  1. Bev

    This activism started yesterday so today is day two.

    Please note from Naomi Klein:

    Invitation to Washington D.C.

    By Maude Barlow, Wendell Berry, Tom Goldtooth, Danny Glover, James Hansen, Wes Jackson, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, George Poitras, Gus Speth, and David Suzuki

    Dear Friends,

    This will be a slightly longer letter than common for the internet age—it’s serious stuff.

    The short version is we want you to consider doing something hard: coming to Washington in the hottest and stickiest weeks of the summer and engaging in civil disobedience that will quite possibly get you arrested.

    The full version goes like this:

    As you know, the planet is steadily warming: 2010 was the warmest year on record, and we’ve seen the resulting chaos in almost every corner of the earth.

    And as you also know, our democracy is increasingly controlled by special interests interested only in their short-term profit.

    These two trends collide this summer in Washington, where the State Department and the White House have to decide whether to grant a certificate of ‘national interest’ to some of the biggest fossil fuel players on earth. These corporations want to build the so-called ‘Keystone XL Pipeline’ from Canada’s tar sands to Texas refineries.

    To call this project a horror is serious understatement. The tar sands have wrecked huge parts of Alberta, disrupting ways of life in indigenous communities—First Nations communities in Canada, and tribes along the pipeline route in the U.S. have demanded the destruction cease. The pipeline crosses crucial areas like the Oglalla Aquifer where a spill would be disastrous—and though the pipeline companies insist they are using ‘state of the art’ technologies that should leak only once every 7 years, the precursor pipeline and its pumping stations have leaked a dozen times in the past year. These local impacts alone would be cause enough to block such a plan. But the Keystone Pipeline would also be a fifteen hundred mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent, a way to make it easier and faster to trigger the final overheating of our planet, the one place to which we are all indigenous.

    How much carbon lies in the recoverable tar sands of Alberta? A recent calculation from some of our foremost scientists puts the figure at about 200 parts per million. Even with the new pipeline they won’t be able to burn that much overnight—but each development like this makes it easier to get more oil out. As the climatologist Jim Hansen (one of the signatories to this letter) explained, if we have any chance of getting back to a stable climate “the principal requirement is that coal emissions must be phased out by 2030 and unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, must be left in the ground.” In other words, he added, “if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.”The Keystone pipeline is an essential part of the game. “Unless we get increased market access, like with Keystone XL, we’re going to be stuck,” said Ralph Glass, an economist and vice-president at AJM Petroleum Consultants in Calgary, told a Canadian newspaper last week.

    Given all that, you’d suspect that there’s no way the Obama administration would ever permit this pipeline. But in the last few months the administration has signed pieces of paper opening much of Alaska to oil drilling, and permitting coal-mining on federal land in Wyoming that will produce as much CO2 as 300 powerplants operating at full bore.

    And Secretary of State Clinton has already said she’s ‘inclined’ to recommend the pipeline go forward. Partly it’s because of the political commotion over high gas prices, though more tar sands oil would do nothing to change that picture. But it’s also because of intense pressure from industry. The US Chamber of Commerce—a bigger funder of political campaigns than the RNC and DNC combined—has demanded that the administration “move quickly to approve the Keystone XL pipeline,” which is not so surprising—they’ve also told the U.S. EPA that if the planet warms that will be okay because humans can ‘adapt their physiology’ to cope. The Koch Brothers, needless to say, are also backing the plan, and may reap huge profits from it.

    So we’re pretty sure that without serious pressure the Keystone Pipeline will get its permit from Washington. A wonderful coalition of environmental groups has built a strong campaign across the continent—from Cree and Dene indigenous leaders to Nebraska farmers, they’ve spoken out strongly against the destruction of their land. We need to join them, and to say even if our own homes won’t be crossed by this pipeline, our joint home—the earth—will be wrecked by the carbon that pours down it.

    And we need to say something else, too: it’s time to stop letting corporate power make the most important decisions our planet faces. We don’t have the money to compete with those corporations, but we do have our bodies, and beginning in mid August many of us will use them. We will, each day, march on the White House, risking arrest with our trespass. We will do it in dignified fashion, demonstrating that in this case we are the conservatives, and that our foes—who would change the composition of the atmosphere are dangerous radicals. Come dressed as if for a business meeting—this is, in fact, serious business.

    And another sartorial tip—if you wore an Obama button during the 2008 campaign, why not wear it again? We very much still want to believe in the promise of that young Senator who told us that with his election the ‘rise of the oceans would begin to slow and the planet start to heal.’ We don’t understand what combination of bureaucratic obstinacy and insider dealing has derailed those efforts, but we remember his request that his supporters continue on after the election to pressure his government for change. We’ll do what we can.

    And one more thing: we don’t just want college kids to be the participants in this fight. They’ve led the way so far on climate change—10,000 came to DC for the Powershift gathering earlier this spring. They’ve marched this month in West Virginia to protest mountaintop removal; a young man named Tim DeChristopher faces sentencing this summer in Utah for his creative protest.

    Now it’s time for people who’ve spent their lives pouring carbon into the atmosphere to step up too, just as many of us did in earlier battles for civil rights or for peace. Most of us signing this letter are veterans of this work, and we think it’s past time for elders to behave like elders. One thing we don’t want is a smash up: if you can’t control your passions, this action is not for you.

    This won’t be a one-shot day of action. We plan for it to continue for several weeks, till the administration understands we won’t go away. Not all of us can actually get arrested—half the signatories to this letter live in Canada, and might well find our entry into the U.S. barred. But we will be making plans for sympathy demonstrations outside Canadian consulates in the U.S., and U.S. consulates in Canada—the decision-makers need to know they’re being watched.

    Twenty years of patiently explaining the climate crisis to our leaders hasn’t worked. Maybe moral witness will help. You have to start somewhere, and we choose here and now.

    If you think you might want to be a part of this action, we need you to sign up here.

    As plans solidify in the next few weeks we’ll be in touch with you to arrange nonviolence training; our colleagues at a variety of environmental and democracy campaigns will be coordinating the actual arrangements.

    We know we’re asking a lot. You should think long and hard on it, and pray if you’re the praying type. But to us, it’s as much privilege as burden to get to join this fight in the most serious possible way. We hope you’ll join us.

    Maude Barlow – Chair, Council of Canadian
Wendell Berry – Author and Farmer
Tom Goldtooth – Director, Indigenous Environmental Network

    Danny Glover – Actor

    James Hansen – NASA Climate Scientist

    Wes Jackson – Agronomist, President of the Land Insitute

    Naomi Klein – Author and Journalist

    Bill McKibben – Writer and Environmentalist
George Poitras – Mikisew Cree Indigenous First Nation

    Gus Speth – Environmental Lawyer and Activist

    David Suzuki – Scientist, Environmentalist and Broadcaster

    P.S. Please pass this letter on to anyone else you think might be interested. We realize that what we’re asking isn’t easy, and we’re very grateful that you’re willing even to consider it. See you in Washington!



  2. Bev


    Dozens arrested at White House as pipeline protests begin

    Dozens were arrested at the White House Saturday as protesters began a two-week sit-in expected to draw over 2,000 opponents of a proposed pipeline from Canada to the US Gulf Coast.

    “President (Barack) Obama can stop this climate-killing disaster with the stroke of a pen,” said Bill McKibben, spokesman for Tar Sands Action, the environmental group that organized the protest. Tar Sands said on its website that more than 70 people were arrested Saturday.

    “This is the most important environmental test that President Obama has faced. He has to decide whether or not to grant permission for this giant pipeline,” said McKibben.

    A total of 2,200 people from all 50 states are expected to take part in the event, which is designed to pressure Obama to deny a permit for the $13 billion Keystone XL pipeline project due to stretch across 1,700 miles (2,700 kilometers).

    Many of Saturday’s protesters wore pro-Obama buttons, but professor Bob Wilson from New York state said he was “upset” with the president.

    “I’m upset with the Obama administration and the federal government’s inability to do anything in dealing with climate change,” he said.

    “Enormous carbon has been locked up in these tar sands and to release it into the atmosphere will make climate change worse.”


  3. Sam

    BP CEO and staff should be forbidden to go to the site until an investigation is conducted by an independent group.

  4. ambrit

    As one who has fled the Mississippi Gulf Coast inland for various reasons, the obfuscation and deceit attendant to the Great Gulf Oil Spill is nothing new. Local politics is corrupt enough without the degrading influences from outside. That the Macondo field should be leaking is no surprise given the apparant overpressure that caused the original disaster. Simply put, the oil way down there is under enormous pressure. Give it a way to escape and it will. I know next to nothing about the geology of the Gulf floor in that region, but the fact that the well is situated in a canyon, and very deep to boot, suggests that the conditions are right for fracturing and subsurface dispersal of high pressure gasses and liquids. Once the impermeable rock layer that originally kept the oil contained was drilled through, whatever flaws in the overlying rock existed became the conduits that oil could use to escape.
    Again, how many other Macondo field well heads are there? Some of them could be failing, a cascade of sorts. If they were installed and maintained with the same cowboy mentality that led to the Deepwater Horizon debacle, all bets would be off.
    Are the ‘authorities’ still live streaming from the original failed wellhead? That would be informative.
    Another possibility would be giant streams of the original oil spill trapped at depth between temperature layers in the Gulf waters. The dynamics of viscous liquids ‘in the wild’ are still somewhat murky. Of interest is just how far down does the Helix piping extend. To the bottom? If not, how far above the bottom at that point? There’s a lot still to come out about this.

  5. jumpjet

    So… now what?

    Do we NUKE the fucking thing?

    I don’t like that idea at all, but if there’s no other way to plug the hole…

    1. Ray Duray


      You seem particularly naive about geology. If you have a cap rock that appears to be failing because of fracturing, the most idiotic think in the world you could do would be to toss a high explosive device at that geological structure in the hope of increasing its integrity.

      It might behoove you to think before typing and wasting everyone else’s time here.

  6. BC

    Our land is sinking, our marsh is disappearing, yet you see more coverage of a few specks of oil 100 miles away. It’s just FUD-mongering. It would be nice to see that attention devoted to more serious problems. There is no shortage of seafood and it’s quite tasty. If you can’t limit out on specks right now, you’re a bad fisherman. Same for crabs along the beaches.

  7. Jackrabbit

    Subprime/Credit Crisis -> Economic Slump and Sovereign Debt Crisis (2008-?)
    Macondo (2010-?)
    Fukushima (2011-?)

    All HUGE disasters in highly regulated industries. Isn’t it clear that there is a systemic problem with government regulation?

    How can we KNOW that regulation of these (and other industries) will be adequate in the future?

    Also, if you haven’t seen it already (don’t miss the last part):
    Obama kicks (BP’s) ass”

  8. TomFowler

    I don’t believe that’s a picture of the Helix Producer 1 up above. It looks like a different vessel, one that lays cable or pipelines.

  9. Anonymous

    All well and good, except that the vessel depicted is not the Helix Producer I. If you look at the bow of the ship (and the Helipad), it’s clearly the Helix Express, and a trivial googling reveals that the Helix Express is a pipe-laying vessel, not a production vessel.

    BP are still a bunch of bastards, and I love a good conspiracy yarn as much as the next guy, but given that the GRN folks didn’t even get the name of the vessel correct, I have question their conclusions.

Comments are closed.