The Coast Guard and BP have returned to the scene of last year’s Deepwater Horizon disaster after a newspaper reported numerous oily blobs rising to the surface of the Gulf of Mexico a mile from the site. BP is sending a robotic submersible to examine the blown-out well that was cemented last August and declared dead a month later.
An initial search turned up no sign of oil at the surface, and BP said in a statement late Thursday that there is no indication that its Macondo well is leaking.
But the report by the Press-Register in Mobile, Ala., has incited a flurry of investigatory activity around the well, which blew out on April 20, 2010, in what became the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
The Coast Guard used a plane and a cutter to search for the oil Thursday. The Coast Guard is working with BP, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE).
“We are planning to conduct a routine ROV inspection of the Macondo well head tonight to further confirm that there is no release,” BP said.
The company is anxious to put to rest persistent rumors among bloggers and activists that the well, which was choked with a mile of cement in August of last year and declared dead in September, is leaking.
“We’re committed to working with U.S. Coast Guard and BOEMRE to get to the bottom of this mystery,” BP spokesman Scott Dean said.
BOEMRE would not provide details of the investigation.
“We are aware of the reports and are currently coordinating with BP, USCG and NOAA to investigate the sightings,” a BOEMRE spokesman said.
The Mobile Press-Register published its story Thursday, based on a trip to the site two days earlier. The paper stated that “hundreds of small, circular patches of oily sheen dotted the surface within a mile of the wellhead” and published pictures of oil in the water. Most of the oil was in an area roughly 50 yards wide and a quarter of a mile long.
The most likely source of the oil is a natural seep, said Coast Guard Capt. Jonathan Burton, commanding officer of the Marine Safety Unit in Morgan City. Another possibility is that it was “a burp of oil” from the collapsed riser pipe, which crumpled to the floor of the gulf when the immolated Deepwater Horizon sank two days after the blowout.
“Those are pretty damning pictures. Those are oil drops, no question about it,” said Ian MacDonald, a Florida State University professor of oceanography and expert on the gulf’s natural oil seeps.
“Hopefully it’s nothing serious. But like if you had a heart attack and get chest pains, you better have a look at what’s going on,” he said.