NEW ORLEANS (CN) - An environmental attorney said oil is still leaking from BP's Macondo Formation more than 16 months after the well was declared sealed. The attorney said the only explanation for fresh oil bearing the Macondo fingerprint that's washed ashore on barrier islands is that the seafloor was damaged during the Deepwater Horizon blowout, and oil is seeping through.
The April 20, 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon killed 11 people and dumped millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days, until the well was declared capped, on July 15, 2010.
But attorney Stuart Smith told Courthouse News that new oil is washing up on barrier islands in Louisiana and Mississippi.
"There's a deafening silence on the issue," from the Coast Guard and from BP, Smith said.
"We've been doing environmental testing, we've been spending a lot of time and resources doing what's called 'fingerprinting' the oil," Smith said.
"Oil from different reservoirs contains different concentrations of various stuff, and so each reservoir has a fingerprint. If you test it, you can tell where it's coming from. The Macondo well was the only well that was completed into that particular reservoir.
"In the spring of this year, we did some sampling and when we got the results back, it was a fingerprint match to fresh Macondo oil," Smith said.
"That was very interesting to us. We couldn't understand why. Then again, we did some more testing this summer and it came back the same way. We're finding fresh Macondo oil washing up on beaches on the barrier islands. And then, through sources that I have, we heard that their [BP's] well was leaking, and that there was oil in the Gulf, and that they had research vessels there at the site.
"We covered that, and then there was a big push back from BP, denying it. And so Bonny Schumaker [a pilot and founder of Wings of Care] flew out there in late August, and lo and behold, there's fresh oil bubbling up to the surface and this is still in the vicinity of the well. We don't know how much oil it is."
Wings of Care is a California-based nonprofit whose pilots, boat captains, scientists, veterinarians and other professionals work on environmental projects, including surveys, research, rescues and rehab.
Smith said Schumaker has done several flights since August. In each case, he said, she identified oil in the area of the Macondo Prospect well.
A story Smith posted on his bloglast week details Schumaker's Nov. 12 flight over the Macondo well: "Macondo Mystery Deepens: Nine Large Vessels Spotted Working in Vicinity of Deepwater Horizon Site."
Smith said BP and the Coastguard sent investigators to the well in August, and they came back saying no oil was leaking.
"They said they sent remotely operated vehicles down there which found no oil leaking from the well itself. And then there was speculation that it might be leaking from the equipment that has fallen to the seafloor. Transocean did a submersible dive and they found nothing leaking from the equipment.
"So the question becomes: Where is it coming from?
"We know that fresh oil is washing up to this day. It's a fingerprint match to the Macondo crude. That's even been admitted by Ed Overton, who is a research scientist at LSU that's been hired by the Coast Guard to do these tests.
"The only explanation is that there has been damage to the seafloor because of the blowout, which has allowed oil to come from that formation," Smith said.
In an emailed statement late Friday, a representative from BP verified that several vessels are in the vicinity of the Macondo well: "There are several vessels there participating in a study of natural oil seeps. This study has been ongoing for the past month or so. Data continues being collected and we provided an update on the natural oil seeps at the SETAC [Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry] conference in Boston this week. ... The study is documenting the specific locations of these seeps and is seeking to track oil flow from seabed to surface," BP wrote.
Smith responded to BP's statement: "If there are seeps in this area they are not natural. BP was required to do a seafloor survey prior to applying for a permit to drill. If these seeps were not discovered at that time, they are clearly related to the disaster and the methods used to try to seal the well," Smith said.
BP was not immediately available for further comment.
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