Raw Footage from the Gulf: Beaches in Bay Jimmy “Stained Black”; Grand Isle Oyster Beds Choke Under Heavy Sheen

BP and its boosters say we dodged a bullet. They beat their chests and shout from the treetops that the 200-million-gallon spill off Louisiana’s coast didn’t break the back of the Gulf like all the “doomsdayers” said it would. They talk of safe seafood and booming Gulf tourism. They tell us the oil is gone, that it’s time to move on. In fact, according to BP, the Gulf has made such an unexpectedly fast recovery that “future loss” claims to victims of the spill should be shut down. No more damage so no more damage claims, or so argues BP’s legal team on into the night.

The oil giant’s earnings have bounced back into the black with last quarter earnings after taxation of $5.62 billion. And taking the “you can’t make this stuff up” application to a whole new level of incredulity, ex-BP CEO Tony Hayward has taken a lucrative job with Houston-based commodities trader Glencore in charge of (get this) environment, health and safety. Who better qualified than the man that unleashed the worst environmental disaster in the history of the United States? I wonder how that reads on Mr. Hayward’s resumé.

With all the “good news” we’re hearing from BP and its partners, I thought it might be helpful to remind everybody of what reality looks like down here on the Gulf. Does anybody remember reality? It’s hard to recall sometimes because of the cacophony of rosy assessments and outright lies that fog the way, like so many barrels of oil.

This is truly startling footage – shot just last month by Louisiana charter boat captain, Allen Walker – particularly when it’s viewed against the backdrop of BP’s blusterings about a full Gulf recovery. If you think the oil is more or less gone and the Gulf is in the throes of a full recovery, this video will disabuse you of that notion.

The scene opens with Capt. Walker and members of his team in a small motor boat parked just off a beach in Bay Jimmy – which lies roughly 35 miles south of New Orleans in the northern reaches of the much larger Barataria Bay. In many ways it looks like footage from July 11, 2010 not 2011. The beach is completely black, soaked with oil, and according to Walker, it’s not only weathered oil but also what appears to be fresh oil coiling up on the beach with each wave (as you can see in the video).

Capt. Walker’s observations are in line with the theory, presented by myself and others, that the Macondo well site may still be leaking (see link to my previous post below). In May, members of my research team established a fingerprint match to BP’s Macondo Well from fresh oil washing ashore on Breton Island, approximately 40 miles due west of Bay Jimmy. We will report back with test results from the water and tar-ball samples Capt. Walker’s team took on this July 11 excursion.

The footage shows thick black tar mats the size of serving platters stuck to the beach, oyster beds choking under heavy sheen and tar, large swaths of dead mangroves and dozens of air cannons (used to scare wildlife away from heavily oiled areas) dotting the shoreline. You won’t see this on CNN or Fox News.

For part of the trip, Capt. Walker and his team were joined by a Grand Isle oysterman (who requested anonymity). “We went to an oyster lease with the owner,” Walker said. “After we lowered our prop, it only took a couple minutes before oil kicked up from the bottom covered the bay as far as we could see with heavy sheen. …By the end of it, the harvester sat down in the boat and cried.”

I spoke to Capt. Walker shortly after he shot this video, and he too was very emotional about what he saw. And I should note that this isn’t Walker’s first rodeo. He grew up on these waters and has seen many spills and slicks over the years. He is a life-long Gulf fisherman who has been patrolling these areas since last summer. “It’s ridiculous really, the beaches are stained totally black,” said Walker. “It looks, feels and smells like the spill happened yesterday out there not a year ago. The fumes still burn your eyes and throat, and it stinks like gasoline everywhere you go.”

Capt. Walker’s July 11 video is also disturbing in the lack of progress it reveals, showing that this area of Barataria Bay seems to be frozen in time. Here’s an April 13 report from the Times-Picayune of what Bay Jimmy looked like three months prior to Capt. Walker’s patrol:

In Bay Jimmy and along Pass a Loutre, where numerous cleanup workers are still working to remove matted oil from wetlands, air cannons and poles with strips of reflective foil are being used to scare away birds. But those efforts will have little success with many of the species returning to the state, she said.

On inspection trips to Bay Jimmy and other spots in Barataria Bay and along the coast, Audubon’s director of bird conservation for the Gulf, Melanie Driscoll, found several locations where marshes normally populated by birds in the spring remained heavily oiled.

One small marsh grass island that hosted nests of seaside sparrows and clapper rails last year has already disappeared into the Gulf as a result of the oil spill, Driscoll said. Elsewhere, Driscoll found both living and dead crustaceans along shorelines where birds were returning to nest.

“I watched fiddler crabs and hermit crabs dead on the oiled marsh, and watched live young crabs of both species scuttling through pools of oil,” she said. “These are the food for some of our declining birds, including clapper rails, seaside sparrows and Wilson’s plovers.”

In addition to the plight of Gulf seabirds and crabs, Capt. Walker points out that Bay Jimmy is “premium sea turtle nesting ground.” The fact that turtles are returning to this “heavily oiled” area, the place where they were born, to lay eggs was particularly hard for Walker to stomach. He’s been involved with sea turtle rescue for many years. As the video shows thick brown oil rolling up against the marsh and thick sheen floating on the surface, Capt. Walker reports: “Sea turtles nest like salmon, they go back to where they were originally born. And here they have oil-saturated marsh and air cannons as far as the eye can see. …It smells like gasoline all around here…”

So that’s what reality looks like. How can it be reconciled with BP’s claims of a miraculous recovery?

Capt. Walker: “I’ve been fishing Bay Jimmy since I was a kid. But after seeing how much oil is still out there, I’ll never fish those waters again. And that’s a really sad reality.”

Read my previous post suggesting the Macondo well site may still be leaking: http://www.stuarthsmith.com/is-bps-macondo-well-site-still-leaking-fresh-oil-on-the-gulf-raises-concerns-and-haunting-memories

Read the full Times-Picayune report here: http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2011/04/oil_from_bp_spill_remains_thre.html

© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – All Rights Reserved

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