Gulf Research Pilot Troubled by Oil Sighting in Macondo Prospect

Late last month, Bonny Schumaker, Ph.D. was doing an aerial survey of whale sharks. An optimistic flight in search of healthy wildlife turned into despair as Schumaker found oil, and lots of it.
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It's been over 16 months since the BP oil disaster, now rebranded the Macondo oil "spill," or the Deepwater Horizon "spill."

The Financial Times reports that the Obama administration has approved the sale of new oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico. Media has not scrutinized the safety of this decision, as all eyes are on the sinking economy and the emerging Republican field for the 2012 election. The lease sale, set for December in New Orleans, was welcomed by oil industry interests.

But there is another set of eyes intimately familiar with the Gulf of Mexico. These keen eyes observed disturbing evidence that all is not well in the area impacted by the estimated 200 million gallons of crude oil that spewed into the ecosystem after the April 20, 2010 explosion of the wellhead that killed 11 and injured 17.

Bonny Schumaker, Ph.D. is an airline transport and commercial pilot, long-standing gold-seal FAA flight instructor, and worked for 22 years with NASA/JPL since receiving her doctorate in physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1985. She has been rescuing and rehabbing both domestic animals and wildlife for the past four decades as president and founder of On Wings of Care, Inc. Schumaker has also been flying her Cessna and documenting the health of the Gulf since the beginning of the spill. She took NBC News on a flyover 12 months ago and was featured on the "Today" show.

Schumaker checking levels on her Cessna, "Bessie" (Photo: G. Nienaber)

Late last month, Schumaker was doing an aerial survey of whale sharks in collaboration with scientists in surface vessels. An optimistic flight in search of healthy wildlife turned into despair as Schumaker not only found dolphins and leatherback sea turtles, but oil, and lots of it.

"In fact, we found so much oil out in the Macondo Prospect (about 15 miles from the site of the April 2010 explosion) that we have an 11-minute video of it that never covers the same area twice. Not since last summer have we seen this kind of expansive surface sheen," Schumaker says. You can read more from her logs on her website.

Schumaker notified two ships about the oil and provided GPS coordinates to the U.S. Coast Guard.

"The first was the NOAA Okeanos Explorer, which was cruising alongside and then right through a line of those oily globs. The second was the Sarah Bordelon, whose crew told us they were sampling the oil for BP," Schumaker says.

Critical thinkers will ask the question: why was BP sampling oil on Aug. 30 when they maintained that there was no oil coming from MC252 (Macondo) in an Aug. 26 press release? For those who have forgotten, there is an excellent timeline of the disaster here.

Schumaker has been troubled since this sighting, and her concern prompted her to write a letter to legislators, a meditation that flows straight from the heart of a scientist who takes her passion for wildlife and the environment seriously. She shared it with us, and we think it is worth reading.

An Open Letter to our National and Local Leaders and Legislators

2011 September 06

Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen,

You are in unique positions of privilege and authority that permit you to affect our lives, the lives of our children and their children's children.

You and your predecessors never asked our permission to drill into the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico off of our shores or in our wetlands, or to litter our waters with oil and gas platforms and pipelines and abandoned oilfield structures.

You and your predecessors never asked our permission to use toxic chemical dispersants to dilute and sink the oil that spilled from wells or leaking pipelines. You never asked our permission to discharge drilling fluids and process waters that contain radioactive contaminants into the Gulf.

Had you asked us, you would never have received permission to do much of the drilling and poisoning of the Gulf that has occurred to date.

We understand how dependent our lifestyles have become on the short-term convenience and affordability of fossil-fuel energies, and how our states have earned money by compromising our waters and wetlands, our health and our food supplies, our beauty and our biodiversity.

We know what an adjustment and near-term hardship it will be for us to retrace this tragic path that was forged without our permission.

We want to live as we were intended to live, to breathe clean air, drink pure water, and eat food that is naturally wholesome and healthful and life-giving, not laden with unnatural, organo-toxic chemicals. We want to develop energy sources that are harmless to nature, our environment, and our lives. We want to fish and farm sustainably. We want to be true citizens and stewards of this planet, not exploiters, parasites, polluters, and tumors.

Your choices have killed generations of marine mammals, birds and other marine life, and have negatively affected human beings for generations to come. Your choices are continuing to contaminate the Gulf and all that lives therein and nearby.

You misled us about the safety of deepwater drilling. We knew it makes no good sense to drill too deeply into our mother Earth.

You misled us about the safety of diluting toxic oil spills with still more toxic chemicals. We knew it makes no good sense to fight toxins with yet more toxins, to hide huge slicks of surface oil from our sight by dispersing them into a pervasive underwater fog and submerged oil pools.

You misled us about the safety of eating seafood caught in the areas where oil and chemical dispersants abound. We knew that what tested toxic is toxic, regardless of its concentration.

Don't tell us the oil is gone, that the Gulf is healed, and that our seafood is safe, when none of that is true.

And don't try to give us our [old] lives back. We are taking our own lives back. We are re-claiming the lives of our children and their children's children, the lives of our kindred beings, the lives of the Gulf, and the lives of this planet.

We are not running away and leaving the Gulf of Mexico to corporate and political agendas. We are here for the Gulf, and for the long-term.


Bonny L. Schumaker, Ph.D.

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