Sure, it may not be as dramatic as the fiery shots of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but this image still makes us sick to our stomachs -- An oil and gas well in the Gulf of Mexico has been leaking natural gas into the ocean for the last four days. The well, which was reportedly being closed up after 15 years of inactivity, began leaking after a "loss of well control event" at 9:45 a.m. on Monday, according to the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).
The well was reportedly leaking a combination of natural gas, water, and condensate, a liquid form of raw natural gas. When the natural gas evaporates into the air, the light condensate falls back onto the ocean's surface, forming a "rainbow sheen." Although the Bureau says that the sheen is evaporating, a flyover reported that the rainbow sheen could be seen spanning four miles across the Gulf's surface.
The well was "actively leaking gas," Coast Guard spokesman Jonathan Lally confirmed to NBC News on Tuesday evening. The well, located about 74 miles off Port Fourchon, Louisiana, is owned by Energy Resources Technology Gulf of Mexico, a subsidiary of Talos Energy. Talos Energy President Timothy Duncan issued a statement on Tuesday explaining the breadth of the situation: "We believe that approximately six barrels of light condensate have been discharged in the last 24 hours, based upon the four-mile-wide by three-quarter-mile-long sheen as reported by the BSEE and the U.S. Coast Guard."
Crews have been working to pump mud into the well to plug up the leak, but stormy weather is complicating efforts to seal the leak off completely with concrete, so the total damage is unclear. According to federal estimates from the Coast Guard, while the leak was actively flowing, about 3.6 barrels of natural gas condensate was being discharged every 24 hours, bringing the total natural gas leak into the ocean closer to 14 barrels.
"There's lots of rainbow sheen," said Bonny Schumacker from the wildlife preservation nonprofit On Wings of Care. Schumacker flew over the site on Wednesday. Very little marine life could been seen in the area, Schumaker reported, a trend that has been present since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in 2010. Still, there's a real chance that this leak will harm marine life in the area: "Toxic gases will damage the bodies of fish that come into contact by damaging their gills and causing internal damage," Jonathan Henderson of the Gulf Restoration Network reported to KSAT news. This time of the year could even pose a 'perfect storm' scenario for these vulnerable creatures: "Marine species in the Gulf are more vulnerable when water temperatues are high and when oxygen concentrations are low like they are now," Henderson explained.
Although the leak has been plugged for now, you can be sure that we will be monitoring the situation. Unfortunately, events like these could become all the more common, as a proposal is currently being considered to allow seismic airgun testing to occur to find oil and gas below the seafloor along the Atlantic. Seismic airgun testing uses dynamite-like blasts to locate fossil fuels under the ocean floor. These blasts are powerful enough to injure, deafen, or even kill marine creatures, and if this proposed seismic airgun plan passes for the Atlantic, more than 138,500 dolphins and whales will be injured or killed by the blasts. Even more, seismic airgun testing is the first step towards drilling for oil and gas in the Atlantic, which will only lead to further oil leaks or explosions in the ocean.
But we can do something to stop this. Sign our petition to tell President Obama to reject seismic airgun testing, and share it with your friends. With your help, we can fight to ensure that the only "rainbows" in our oceans come from the gorgeous creatures within them.
UPDATE: The leaking well was sealed on Friday, but more work will be required to permanently seal the well. Unfortunately, these types of spills and leaks will only continue if we do not reject seismic airgun testing and the oil and gas drilling that they lead to. Luckily, we have other options -- offshore wind is a clean, safe, and forever renewable source of energy. And unlike gas or oil, the ocean and its creatures have nothing to fear from wind spills!