Another BP gusher in the Gulf?

Reports of a spreading oil slick near British Petroleum’s Maconda well about 40 miles from shore in the Gulf of Mexico have local residents and area scientists concerned. BP has yet to confirm or deny the reports and mainstream media outlets have so far avoided investigating the story.

Samples from the slick collected by the Mobile Press-Register last month bore the same chemical footprint as the oil that gushed from BP’s Deepwater Horizon well for three months in the spring, according to Louisiana State University chemists. BP reported that a submersible found no evidence of leaks in the Deepwater well nor in the relief well drilled as part of the company’s efforts to plug the historic gusher, which killed 11 oil workers, injured 17 others and wreaked catastrophic environmental and economic damage to Gulf Coast communities in five U.S. states.

A concentrated oil burn in the Gulf of Mexico, conducted in May 2010 (Pic by Deepwater Horizon Response, via Flickr)

Progress Florida’s — a site initially set up after last year’s disaster — has been reporting extensively on the new oil.

Group Director Mark Ferrulo says the denials by BP are “eerily reminiscent of the early stages of the Deepwater disaster.”

“The problem is that, if BP is our only source of factual information, then we’re in trouble,” says Ferrulo. “Because they have a history — not only with the Deepwater Horizon Disaster, but with other disasters — of not being honest to the general public.”

The oil was first spotted during an August flyover by the nonprofit group On Wings of Care. The group was conducting a survey of whale sharks when it came upon the slick. In an Aug. 26 press release, BP maintained that there was “no release of oil from the Macondo well.” (Other rumors have circulated that BP has hired a fleet of 40 shrimping boats to skim oil from the area. BP has denied those rumors.)

The pilot who conducted the initial flyover notified both NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard of the presence of the slick and was told that NOAA was currently sampling the oil for BP.

In a Sept. 10 flyover of the area conducted by On Wings of Care, the slick was still clearly visible. But following its own recent flyover, the Coast Guard said it didn’t spot any oil.

“It’s been really strange and discomforting,” says Progress Florida’s Mark Ferrulo. “These [On Wings of Care] pilots were literally flying over a 10-mile long mile slick and yet the Coast Guard said they couldn’t find it. Their video goes for nine minutes — without any repeats. And BP says it isn’t there, but there is a BP research ship in the vicinity.”

SkyTruth, a group that analyzes NOAA and NASA satellite imagery, has published its own reports alleging that there is indeed some sort of ongoing potential leak in the area.

“The only real conclusive, without-any-doubt thing could be some kind of video imagery,” says Ferrulo. “Until we get that, the speculation will remain.”

Fresh tar balls have recently begun washing up on the shores of Alabama following rough waters brought on by Tropical Storm Lee. Though BP has not yet said whether the tar balls are the result of a recent spill (or even last year’s spill), contractors for the company are removing them anyway.

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