Shell Spilled 90,000 gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico last week and no one is talking about it
On May 12, an estimated 2,100 barrels of oil — about 88,200 gallons — spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. The oil had leaked from an undersea pipeline system operated by the oil company Royal Dutch Shell, some 97 miles south of Port Fourchon off the Louisiana coast.
The oil spill — classified as medium-sized spill — was first observed by a Shell helicopter as a 2-mile-by-13-mile sheen on the surface of the water at the company’s Glider Field area. The Glider Field is a group of four subsea wells located in Shell’s Green Canyon Block 248. Oil and gas from these four wells flow to the company’s Brutus Tension-Leg Platform located nearby in 2,900 feet of water.
Once the spill was detected, Shell said that it shut its production at the Glider Field.
“The likely cause of the sheen is a release of oil from subsea infrastructure and, in response, Shell has isolated the leak and shut-in production at both fields,” Shell said in a statement released on the day of the spill. “The company has made all appropriate regulatory notifications and mobilized response vessels, including aircraft, in the event the discharge is recoverable. There are no injuries.”
The U.S. coast guard (USCG) added on the same day that the source of the discharge had been secured, and that “the cause of the leak was under investigation”.
Oil began leaking from a Royal Dutch Shell pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico on around May 11th, but it has received a surprisingly low amount of coverage. This is what it looks like.
Following the spill, Shell and USCG launched a joint response, Shell said, to skim recoverable oil and confirm that there were no additional points of leakage. Their joint efforts have helped recover 2,012 barrels (about 84,000 gallons) of oily-water mixture, Shell claimed, and added that their clean up operations have now ended.
The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) — the agency that regulates offshore drilling — has reportedly granted approval for Shell to begin repairs at the Glider Field, and to resume oil production from the nearby Brutus field.
On May 16, BSEE announced that it had formally established a seven-member investigative panel comprising of BSEE engineers, inspectors, and investigators to look into the oil spill.
“The panel will conduct a thorough investigation of the incident in order to identify the causes and any contributing issues that led to the release,” BSEE said. “The panel will make recommendations in its final report on how to strengthen existing safety and environmental management systems, and identify any reforms to existing regulations that may be needed. The focus of these recommendations is to prevent a similar incident from occurring.”
“Production remains shut-in from the two subsea fields that flow to the Brutus platform. BSEE will not approve production restart of these subsea fields until all safety concerns and applicable regulations have been met,” the agency added.
Oil spills have become commonplace in the Gulf of Mexico. Since 2012, there have been 147 oil spill in the gulf, the Associated Press reported, resulting in more than 500,000 gallons of spilled oil.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 was the biggest oil spill in the U.S. history. The spill released more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and has been catastrophic to the region’s wildlife. A study published earlier this year found, for example, that exposure to the oil spill may have caused deaths of hundreds of baby dolphins. The spill has also had disastrous effects on sea turtles, whales, several species of fish and sea birds.
Predictably, several environmental groups are unhappy.
“The last thing the Gulf of Mexico needs is another oil spill,” Vicky Wyatt, Greenpeace Campaigner said in a statement. “The oil and gas industry’s business-as-usual mentality devastates communities, the environment, and our climate. Make no mistake, the more fossil fuel infrastructure we have, the more spills and leaks we’ll see. This terrible situation must come to an end.”