Down in the Gulf, oil still is bubbling to the surface near BP’s disastrous Macondo well. Local fishermen know it, environmental watchdogs know it, local journalists know it. Now, five weeks after it was first spotted, the government knows it too. Following repeated BP denials that its well is leaking, the feds have finally taken action. They’ve ordered Transocean to investigate the mile of Deepwater Horizon riser pipeline that lies crinkled on the ocean bottom, blown to pieces by last year’s catastrophic well explosion.

The oil that meanders in miles long slicks near the Macondo oil field does not appear to be the thick viscous Louisiana crude that tarred the Gulf coast last year. Instead it seems to be made up mostly of oil sheens that float along in long rivers, moving with the waves like an oily ghost that refuses to leave its haunted home. A month ago, the Mobile Press-Register took video and samples of the oil that appeared to bubble up near the Deepwater Horizon site and later were linked directly to BP’s Macondo well. 

Pilot and scientist Bonny Schumaker, who runs On Wings of Care, has been a key player in documenting this disturbing oil spill development. She's been tirelessly flying over the Gulf until the world believed what she and others have seen; fresh oil in the water near BP’s blown out well plugged a mile below the sea—or at least that’s what everyone hopes. Here’s what Bonny reported from her last flight September 27 on a mission to document and count the magnificent whale sharks that call the Gulf home.

And oil.  Oh for the love of whale sharks, we are so sick of seeing oil!  But there's a ton of it out there -- okay, technically probably thousands of tons. Long lines of oil sheen began showing up about 35 miles south-southeast of Grand Isle.  The first one lasted for about a mile but then it picked up again another mile southward and lasted until we reached the distinct line where blue water began -- about 10 miles farther!

 

 

Video of oil sheen from Bonny Schumacker's recent flight in the Gulf

Video: On Wings of Care

BP sent ROVs down to inspect its well in recent weeks and says it has no evidence of any leaks. You can see footage of their inspection here. BP denies the well is leaking in any way or that it is responsible for the current sheens of oil floating along the surface.  

But Transocean, the rig owner, is not backing down either. According to the Telegraph of London, Transocean officials said BP is the responsible party:

"If a volume of oil has remained in the riser [a pipe], there is no question that it is oil from BP's Macondo well. As owner and operator, BP is the responsible party for all fluids that emanated from the Macondo well head, and BP has repeatedly acknowledged that responsibility."

That sounds like another cat fight developing between the major partners of the Deepwater Horizon drilling venture, a project that was once worth billions to the oil giants. Now they’re caught in a web of investigations, accusations and lawsuits that makes them look more like jilted lovers battling through a never-ending celebrity divorce.  

And their well from hell may turn out to be the vampire that no one can drive a stake through. As veteran New Orleans litigator and oil industry nemesis Stuart Smith describes in his blog;

Both companies, BP and Transocean, know how much is at stake here. The Coast Guard laid it out very clearly: “The responsible party may be financially accountable for debris removal costs and damages resulting from the pollution incident.” And just to clarify: The fact that the Coast Guard has ordered Transocean to find the source doesn’t mean Transocean is ultimately responsible for the new leakage or the resulting pollution damages. USCG Capt. Burton simply said this of the possibility that either the damaged riser or the Deepwater Horizon wreckage is the culprit: “Transocean will come up with the best way to determine if they are the responsible source.”

 

 

Oil from an unknown source floats near fishing grounds of Barataria Bay, LA

Photo: PJ Hahn

All of this attention is dumping mountains of Tar Sands-like sludge into BP’s well-oiled PR machine. This is not the stuff BP execs dreamed about after they finally capped the gusher 15 months ago. It’s especially not great timing for BP’s latest PR video venture called My Gulf, just launched to tout the wonders and fun loving culture of the Gulf Coast. Instead people and the press around the world are glued to YouTube videos of new streams of oil drifting near the Macondo well site. For those who want to see the real impacts of the BP disaster, check out Stories from the Gulf, a video produced by NRDC, BridgetheGulf and StoryCorps that aired on The Discovery Channel's Planet Green last April.

Meanwhile, below the surface scientists continue their painfully slow process of documenting the environmental impacts of this historical oil disaster. And it’s becoming increasingly clear the impacts are real. A recent study from Louisiana State University found that a common marsh fish species—the killifish—have been severely damaged and deformed by the oil, threatening their ability to reproduce.

That’s bad news for people who care about the future survival and health of the Gulf ecosystem. But it’s not really news to many fishermen and residents who see the impacts with their own eyes. They see the familiar thick brown and orange oil slicks floating in waters that once were the most productive in the world. They witness brown and black streams of oily residue  wash in with tropical storms, once again defiling beaches and shores with unwanted petroleum wastes from the deep blue sea.  

No, the oil is not gone. “The oil’s still here, and so are we,” the rally cry of concerned activists goes. Perhaps  Press-Register cartoonist JD Crowe put it best this week when he depicted a muzzled BP exec straddled by a oil spill howler monkey. The caption reads; “The monkey is on your back, BP. It won't be ignored. Not by us, anyway.”

It looks like the Macondo monkey will have a grip on BP—and the Gulf—for  some time to come.