Digging Under the Macondo Tombstones
By Gulf Rescue Alliance
As of April 20, 2012—the 2nd Anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster — we have a backdrop of recently published scientific studies[i] indicating sick and dying dolphins, coral and other sea life; bacteria laden tar balls washing onto beaches, an intoxicated Gulf food chain and a Macondo geohazard risk zone over a mile below the surface that some experts say has the potential of releasing toxic gas and oil into the Gulf of Mexico for the next 25 years. Behind this deepwater curtain, there are still many unknowns about the BP Oil Spill events and response.
While a federal trial is still pending and BP settlement talks with the Department of Justice and other stakeholders are on-going, the public are still waiting for a revelation to settle the many open questions associated with the largest oil spill in history.
One unexplained fact generally not known is that oil did not begin to spill into the Gulf of Mexico until 22 April, coincidently and squarely on Earth Day. The large quantities from the Macondo Reservoir only began spewing into the Gulf after several unexplained detonated explosions. The explosions leave open questions since the top well blow out that killed the 11 men was brought under control.
One Geo Hazard Specialist[ii] with a team of insider whistleblowers have brought to the surface answers to a number of these deepwater unknowns having spent the past two years engaged in forensic studies and analysis of disaster records. The Gulf Rescue Alliance (GRA) compiled some of this material into a Briefing Package for Congress and the Attorney Generals of the states of Alabama and Louisiana last month hoping to draw attention to factors they believe might be missed in trial examinations.
The material revealed a hidden 3rd Macondo well that was not the celebrated final capped well (Well A) seen on TV screens across the country, but rather, a well 720ft away from that pictured well.
The actual well (visible at 1:17hrs on this ROV Video[iii]) shows a completely different situation from that described and reported to congressional investigators and the public. Contrary to published records on the event, one sees a well with its blowout preventer (BOP), well bore and casing scattered in pieces on the seabed floor which industry experts say could only have resulted from a powerful explosion that left a gapping oil gushing crater.
The ROV images above (provided to GRA by industry professionals on a Wiki Leaks-like mission) represent the actual well drilled 13,000 ft below the sea floor [referred to as Well BE]. This was the source of the original blow out on April 20th killing 11 and igniting the DWH rig. Marked by a giant solitary piled ‘tombstone’, it lays eerily silent in the middle of a devastated seafloor. Devoid of life, the wasted seabed scarred by trenches, scattered pieces of wrecks, potholes, craters and an artificial turf of cement-drilling mud mixture, is reminiscent of a bombed out battlefield. The internationally broadcasted capped Well A was only drilled to
5000 ft below seabed level and never hit the reservoir to release a flow. No one knows why this capping event in a different location [substantiated by BP ROV location coordinates] deferred attention from the 3rd well. There are still concerns that the reservoir’s gases and high pressure took a detour through cracks and fissures and was not, in fact, laid to rest but instead “morphed into a ‘multiple-headed hydra’ deep beneath the seafloor that is even more difficult to kill”.
Two years after, the Macondo well location is still off limits like a taped off crime scene. However BP has had free access to the area while outside investigators are not permitted to enter. After more than a year of grouting, patching up and cleaning up the seabed around the Macondo wells, we may not ever know what really happened. Liken this to letting a murderer spend a month to clean up the crime scene before sending in the CSI team. Some say the information needed to answer so many questions may end up staying buried under the tombstone forever.
GEO HAZARD CONDITIONS[iv] INDICATE CAPPING THE WELL AND STOPPING ALL LEAKAGE WAS NEVER POSSIBLE
In a recent communication to GRA from the insider whistleblowers (requesting to remain anonymous) it was again made clear, there is and was never any means of shutting down, capping or plugging the Macondo Reservoir:
“We have vertically weak zones near to the salt structure all over the place. Where is the compression going to come from? You have dilation and no elastic rebound (compression). Concentrate on the big picture, it is no longer just one well but a multitude of leaks like the head of a hydra. You chop off one, three more appear. “
Despite reports (as recent as Mar 2012) that new oil slicks are still appearing in the vicinity, BP, the Coast Guard, and NOAA have indicated new sightings of oil were caused by “natural seeps” and not the Macondo well (s). But why then is the controversial toxic dispersant Corexit still foaming up on beaches along with this ‘natural seeping oil’? Residents continue to report oil and dispersant in their waters. Investigative Journalist Dahr Jamail who has reported extensively on the BP spill reported on a 25 mile long slick he witnessed while flying over the Gulf in March, 2012.
The compromised state of the seabed floor described in a letter to congress on Jan 14th 2011 by Geohazards Analyst BK Lim tells why we are still seeing oil and strongly suggests the disaster location remains an ongoing threat:
“Since the beginning of the Deepwater Horizon blowout, I have been deeply concerned about the fragile, highly fractured and faulted Salt Intrusive-Geology that was a major contributing factor to the uncontrollable continuing hydrocarbon seepage out of the Macondo reservoir. The continuing hydrocarbon seepage will have long term, irreversible and potentially dire consequences in the GOM as follows:
a. the vaporization of enormous amounts of methane hydrates on a scale not seen before
b. the release of stresses between the lower and upper crust resulting in the abnormal occurrences of low magnitude, shallow earthquakes adjacent to the New Madrid Fault
c. the sub-seabed underground erosion in the vicinity of the shelf edge undermining the slope stability with possible tsunami-generating, giant, submarine landslides.
There is no question that the oil seepages, gas columns, fissures and blowout craters in the seafloor around the Macondo wellhead, observed from the ROV videos, have been the direct result of indiscriminate drilling, grouting, injection of dispersant and other undisclosed recovery activities” said Lim.
Given this frightening forecast of a Macondo Reservoir out of control, how will the residents and life in the Gulf be affected? With the clean up phase promoted by BP and the EPA as over, emphasis on reducing US oil dependence and everyone standing in line for ‘restoration phase’ funds, it seems that continued leaking oil is not a subject of interest. Moreover, with 73 newly issued Department of Interior deep water drilling permits and absolutely no change in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stance on Oil Spill Response/Clean up regulations, the prospect of another disaster looms.
LESSONS NOT LEARNED– INEFFECTIVE OIL SPILL RESPONSE
Two years after– oil spill clean-up ‘technology’ is apparently not about effectiveness but market dominance–Exxon invented/Nalco manufactured Corexit dispersant is the ONLY product with EPA/DOI preapproval since 1994. And, preapproval is a key word in oil spill response-since no companies will stockpile for emergency use a product in the quantities necessary for a large scale disaster unless pre-approval exists. Many products have been listed on the EPA’s official National Contingency Plan (NCP) for oil spill cleanup list but that doesn’t mean they will be allowed to be used on US navigable waters when there is a spill. They still have to go through a request process. In the past 18 years, no other product but Corexit has ever been approved, despite being inferior in results, more toxic, and more expensive than many of the other products on the list. This has effectively supported and protected a monopoly owned by big oil companies, by setting the situation up in such a way that no other products can compete. Moreover, the preapproval hurdle has prevented technologically superior and environmentally safe clean up applications from being used—the EPA’s own bureaucratic web has blind sighted itself off track and in effect forced residents and sea life into enduring exposure to horribly toxic chemical concentrations through the use of these preapproved dispersants in their living environments.
One such company with a 23 year history battling with the EPA to obtain preapproval is the OSEI Corporation. Despite its product Oil Spill Eater II (OSE II) being listed on the NCP since 1996 with a record of cleaning up more than 18,000 spills, and rigorous scientific testing that proves it to be an effective and completely non-toxic alternative to dispersants – the EPA has refused requests from Gulf state officials and even BP to permit its use on GOM waters.
“The toxic dispersants add absolutely nothing to EFFECTIVE RESPONSE.
There is no scientific basis for it, and their use violates The Clean Water Act, EPA’s charter and common sense. All stakeholders continue doing the same thing over and over again, with the exact same negative outcome—although the EPA calls the toxins in dispersants’ reasonable tradeoffs’, Corexit and dispersants like it, have a horrible track record”, said Steven Pedigo, CEO OSEI.
Corexit’s label clearly states it can cause kidney failure and death and the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) specifically warns, “Do not contaminate surface water” with it. Additionally, toxicity testing in regards to marine species shows little tolerance by all forms of sea life; thus, applying it on spills as a preferred response method increases the toxicity of the spilled oil on which it is used,” Pedigo emphasized.
Dispersants are gaining a justifiable reputation for exacerbating an ocean spill’s problems by sinking the oil into the water column where 60% of marine species live, adversely effecting their ability to survive. Fears now exist that the entire food chain may be threatened by large quantities of Corexit dispersant used on the Gulf spill. One less known fact is that (per US EPA official guidelines) for a dispersant to be deemed effective, it must sink 45% of the oil within 30 minutes. That’s it… nothing else mentioned in the criteria and no clean up standard is mandated. In other words, the imagined solution to the problem of oil hitting shores or adhering to wildlife is not a solution at all–it just moves the problem to a secondary area creating further complications. Toxic chemical dispersant response has proven to just create more natural resource damages, adverse litigation and generally increase spill related costs. (See Study) .
In a report just published by the Tampa Bay Times on the work of Geologist James Kirby whose research is being overseen by the University of South Florida, harmful quantities of Corexit dispersant and oil are still present and a threat to beachgoers in the Gulf of Mexico.
Tiny globs of it, mingled with the chemical dispersant that was supposed to break it up, have settled into the shallows, mingling with the shells, he said. When Kirby shines his light across the legs of a grad student who’d been in the water and showered, it shows orange blotches where the globs still stick to his skin. Without the UV light, the skin just looks normal.
“If I had grandkids playing in the surf, I wouldn’t want them to come in contact with that,” said Kirby, “The dispersant accelerates the absorption by the skin.”
In Nov of 2011, the US EPA requested a meeting with CEO OSEI Corporation, Steven Pedigo after receiving 373 pages of scientific documents showing that OSEI’s Oil Spill Eater II would be a non-toxic alternative to dispersants and solution to the problems existing in the Gulf. This information included citing EPA’s own requested use of OSE II® on the Osage Indian Reservation in 2003 and a presentation attended by several EPA officials where they were given first hand reports and scientific documentation on results with OSE II on 100’s of spill clean ups performed by the US Navy in San Diego Bay, California, USA.
Concerned citizens, including State Senator AG Crowe of LA who authored a petition to ban the use of dispersants find it hard to believe that EPA and NOAA scientists continue to claim there isn’t yet enough experience and scientific tracking to understand the effects of the use of dispersants.[v] However these same dispersants have been used for the past 25 years on oil spills, notably Exxon Valdez, Torre Canyon Spill-Santa Barbara, the Mega Borg Spill, San Francisco South Korea Tanker spill and countless other spills around the world. A study of the Ixtoc spill showed negative effects lingering 30 years later. The track record has clearly been dismal and there is ample documentation on sick and dying responders and millions of dead species of the sea, water ways and shores.
“Now we have the Deepwater Horizon accumulating reports of tens of thousands of sick Gulf residents and responders, dolphins and other life suffering from an overdose of the by-product of these EPA enforced clean up protocols. What is really sad is that we can’t get approval to apply a proven bioremediation product (OSE II) to truly clean it up. Corexit plus MC252 DWH Oil is a cancer causing combination of chemical compounds which is quite contrary to the premise and purpose of the Clean Water Act,” said a Gulf Rescue Alliance spokesperson Susan Aarde.
Defenders of the use of dispersants indicate it “reduces total environmental damage”. Charlie Pajor a spokesman for the manufacturer of Corexit, Nalco, explained: It’s more toxic to marine life, but less toxic to life along the shore and animals at the surface because the oil is not at the surface,” Pajor said. “It’s generally less environmentally harmful than allowing the oil to migrate to the surface.”
Given that the amount of dispersants applied in the Gulf was unprecedented–1.84 million gallons, both on the surface and injected 5000ft down – the affects are unknown and still being studied.
In a word, two years after, we have – new deepwater drilling permits being issued as part of a campaign to reduce foreign oil dependency, along with Cuba and other US Gulf oil regions stepping up their deep water production—unfortunately the SAME spill countermeasure plans remain in place and advanced technology offering safer and more effective solutions remains under an EPA blockade.
CLEANING UP THE SUNKEN OIL – WHY DOESN’T THAT DESERVE EMERGENCY RESPONSE?
Two years after some of the larger environmental organizations are engaged in conducting much needed studies of the Gulf, maintaining a lobby presence for regulatory legislation and/or bringing the responsible parties to justice. A most recent study published by Surfrider Foundation, points out with absolute clarity that the BP spill response using dispersants was wholly inadequate. While the bulk of attention is riveted on the horrible effects and who is at fault, The Earth Organization (TEO), founded by renowned conservationist Lawrence Anthony who recently passed away, has been working to get the Gulf’s waters cleaned up as its primary focus.
Barbara Wiseman, International President of TEO said, “At the beginning of the disaster, TEO investigated to find effective, non-toxic technologies currently available in adequate supply to clean up an oil spill of this size. Once we isolated the best solutions, we then investigated to find what the barriers to getting them implemented were. The barriers have all come down to specific people in the EPA. They are, in effect, holding the Gulf hostage and, for some unexplained reason, won’t let it be cleaned up.”
The Earth Organization produced a film to promoted non-toxic solutions entitled: The Crisis in the Gulf released last year. Interviewed in the film are scientists, fishermen, government officials and OSE II’s inventor Steven Pedigo, as an example of one effective solution that the EPA has dedicatedly blocked despite all scientific indications to the contrary.
With little support from the EPA over their 23 year history, the OSEI Corporation (which has preapproval for its bioremediation product in India, Greece, Nigeria and South Korea), just sent 12 certified letter submissions to the Department of Interior, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) urging preapproval of OSE II for cleaning up the Gulf and inclusion in the Spill Countermeasure Plan as well as for use in regard to all the permitting, approvals and licensing in all BSEE districts.
In June of 2011 the Department of Interior released a test conducted on the effectiveness of dispersants compared to the OSE II product finding its ability to actually clean up a spill (not sink it) was exceptional. [vi] “Since the EPA did not seem interested in finding an alternative for toxic dispersants, we decided to seek preapproval through the DOI since they themselves preformed the testing showing dispersants to be questionable in truly remediating a spill”, commented Pedigo.
In a conference call today between EPA Regional Response Team 6 Officials (Steve Mason, Jim Staves, Ragan Boyles) and OSEI CEO who requested the use of OSE II on the recent Shell Oil Spill in the Gulf, no consensus could be reached. According to Pedigo, who has been demanding an in-writing response to his formal pre-approval request from RRT 6 for more than a year, one of the conference call participants’ said: “we cannot come up with a reason not to use OSE II”.
HOW WILL WE EVER KNOW THE TRUTH UNLESS A SURVEY BY INDEPENDENT GEOHAZARD SPECIALISTS IS CONDUCTED?
A concerned citizen, Rhea Aker, conducted her own study released on You Tube in Jan 2012 entitled: Proof BP’s Well Is Not Capped as They Say It Is. The posting has a link to a petition to demand an independent ROV survey of the seabed floor.
A seafloor survey conducted by BP (using the various multi-beam sonar and sub-bottom profiling techniques) was conducted 15 months later after repeated sightings of new oil. Such a seafloor survey should have been conducted as soon as possible to gather more information on the causes of the disaster and confirm no further leakage. “This belated seafloor survey is nothing more than a carefully choreographed survey designed to show the world that the Macondo Disaster had ended and the new oil spills are nothing more than natural random seeps,” said Lim.
Facts uncovered by the unnamed insiders and summarized by The Gulf Rescue Alliance that they hoped would open the door to a new line of questioning during the BP trial, (of which could be confirmed by an independent ROV survey), included:
- The undisclosed 3rd Macondo well reported as finally sealed in Sept 2010 was drilled without a permit which is illegal. It is this well that was connected to DWH that had the blowout.
- Nearby Well A and Well B, which had MMS permits, had to be abandoned and capped earlier than the blowout due to geohazard risks.
- Congressional Records, MMS records and BP testimony omit the existence of a 3rd well and official public statements asserted there was only one well—the one that was reportedly capped.
- Evidently, BP tried to cover up the fact of 3 wells by calling them “3 leaks” in the fallen riser.
- The original blowout, killing 11 people that occurred on the 20th of April did not result in oil leaking from the well. And yet, no one has questioned, or required an explanation for the additional unexplained explosions that triggered the release of oil into the Gulf—oil that did not begin flowing until the 22nd of April. Per Geohazard expert BK Lim, the only way that a 5-story high and multi-ton’d BOP could have been thrown over 70 feet away from its original position is if detonation of large magnitude was deliberately set.
Industry experts speculate that a small nuclear device was placed at the bottom of the well at 18,000 ft in a last ditch effort to stop the flow. But instead, this produced an even more dangerous environment of fractures, faults and fissures that can never be capped.
A FINAL WORD FOR EARTH DAY:
“The simplistic and geologically unrealistic aim of plugging a single tubular hole in a solid mass of rocks is as unreal and unstable as a “sand castle on the beach”. After months of spewing a corrosive mix of gas, oil and brine into the fragile faulted Gulf Salt-Geology, even the most optimistic geologists would come to the grim conclusion that the 18,300 ft well is no longer the only vertical conduit out of the reservoir. In all probability, a complex multi-pathway monster (more akin to the mythical multi-headed Hydra that Heracles tried to slay) has developed in its place. As said many times before, there is simply no way to plug the genie back into the bottle”. BK Lim Geohazard Expert
By GULF RESCUE ALLIANCE
Submitted: April 17, 2012
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[ii] BK Lim, a 30 year Geohazard specialist with 30 years experience has a long and
track record of assessing the Geohazards of more than 200 drilling locations in some of
the most adverse geological conditions.
[iii] Much of the original underwater video that was analyzed comes from oilspillhub.org*, “an online resource provided by Purdue University for those studying the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history. The site provides an archive of the underwater video of the event, as well as additional tools and resources for educators, scientists, and engineers who are expanding their knowledge of environmental issues.”
[iv] Geological study ABSTRACT-Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi Canyon
The most prominent submarine physiographic trough in the northern Gulf of Mexico is the Mississippi Canyon. This submarine trough has an average width of 8 km., length of 120 km., and bathymetric relief of 300m. Its origin has generally been attributed to channel entrenchment of the Mississippi River during low stands of sea level and erosion of the more distal parts by turbidity currents or submarine gravity flows. In the last two years, a dense, high-resolution seismic and side-scan sonar grid (305 m.), together with deep borings utilized to obtain samples for C-14 dating, has been used to establish a time-stratigraphic framework and origin for this feature. Nine horizons, chosen from borings and dated by C-14 and paleontologic methods, have been traced laterally on the seismic lines. These horizons range in age from Illinoian (400,000 years B.P.) to late Holocene (3,500 years B.P.). During the interval from Illinoian to late Pleistocene (25,000-27,000 years B.P.), the Mississippi River deposited a series of fluvial and deltaic deposits of approximately 1,000 m. There is no evidence that a submarine canyon existed in the vicinity of the present feature during this time interval. Approximately 25,000 years ago, a C-14-dated horizon was truncated by the initial formation of the submarine canyon. Samples dated by C-14, obtained near the base of the canyon fill, show that by 20,000 years B.P.,canyon fill had commenced. Thus, this major submarine trough had, at most, 7,000 years in which to remove 1,500 to 2,000 km.3 of material. It is highly probable, therefore, that the canyon originated from massive shelf-edge slope failure on an unstable continental margin. A series of successive failures, each one creating an upslope instability that triggered the next failure, caused an elongate trough to form that excavated the canyon to a depth of 1,220 m. below present sea level. Once the canyon has formed, its steep side walls continued to be unstable and sediments slumped into the canyon axis, forming the initial canyon fill. This phase is well documented: the lowermost sediment fill is composed of displaced material similar to that now found on the canyon rim. Large scars from side-wall failures can also be easily mapped on the seismic data. From 20,000 years to approximately 5,000 years B.P., a series of late Wisconsin and Holocene delta lobes formed and were responsible for the remainder of the fill of the canyon. During the past 5,000 years only a thin deep-water pelagic drape has been deposited within the canyon. Maps have been constructed that depict the various horizons, and the geometry of these horizons verify this mode of formation.
[v] http://articles.latimes.com/2010/sep/04/science/la-sci-dispersants-20100905 Mervin Fingas, a retired scientist with the Canadian government, said that of roughly 40 biodegradability studies he surveyed between 1997 and 2008, about 60% said dispersant retarded growth of oil-eating microbes and 15% reported no effect. The remaining 25% noted a positive effect.
But positive findings are open to interpretation. At a 1999 oil spill conference, researchers reported that microbial populations dining on oil treated with the dispersant Corexit 9500 (used by BP in the gulf) grew more than seven times as large as those eating oil dispersed physically, suggesting the bacteria were helping.
Yet a comprehensive 2005 review of dispersants by the National Research Council concluded that the healthy bacterial growth in such studies could easily be due to microbes feeding on dispersant, not oil. “There is no conclusive evidence demonstrating either the enhancement or the inhibition of microbial biodegradation when dispersants are used,” the 12 authors wrote.
Some confusion comes from the diversity of dispersant formulas, Fingas said. Some contain chemicals that bacteria prefer to digest. Others block the ability of some microbes to attach to oil droplets and start feeding on the hydrocarbons.
The primary purpose of dispersants is to move oil away from surface-dwelling marine life. In the case of the BP well blowout, because the application was deep under the sea, much of the oil never rose to the surface — which means it went somewhere else, said Robert Diaz, a marine scientist at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.
[vi] The US department of Interior, through solicitation number M08PS00094, award number: M09PC002, through their Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Enforcement (BOEMRE), (previously Mineral Management Service) paid for a study of dielectric oil’s ability to be dispersed, skimmed and bio remediated.
Information specifically related to the product called OSE II begins on page 12. It states:
This bioremediation effectiveness testing protocol (CFR, 1999) was designed to determine oil’s ability to naturally biodegrade by quantifying changes in the oil composition resulting from biodegradation.
An EPA National Contingency Plan (NCP) approved product, Oil Spill Eater II (Oil Spill Eater International, Corp.), was included in the experimental design. Bioremediation testing on Oil Spill Eater II (OSE II) has proven it to be effective at degrading highly-saturated crude oils in the laboratory.”