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Corals in the Gulf still showing impact of spill after two years. Dolphins continue to sicken and die in the Gulf. Oil spill cleanup workers sought for long-term health study. New Gulf oil spill claims administrator sends first payments. Louisiana lawmakers continue to press for passage of Restore Act. New pipeline plan to rival Keystone XL. Minor leak reported at BP’s Texas City plant. Petrobras America sues over broken chain on Gulf oil system. U.S. oil production gains are like water pumps on the Titanic.

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Yep, it looks like the smoking gun - or rather, the raging oil plumes...

The chemical fingerprints are there. The fluffy brown "sea snot" covering - and subsequently killing - deepwater corals in the Gulf is most likely from the Deepwater Horizon gusher.

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and released Monday, research performed on dead and dying corals in an area southwest of the Macondo well shows that the chemical signature of the substance covering the coral connects it with the oil flowing from the blown-out well in the summer of 2010.

Deepwater corals are relatively rare in the Gulf, as most of the seafloor consists of silty mud. Corals must have a solid surface on which to attach, and these areas serve as small oases, populated by the corals and other filter feeders, sea stars and small crustaceans. Pelagics (the swimmers - from small fish to large fish, such as surface- dwelling tarpon and menhaden) are closely linked to these areas near the base of the food chain, so the death of these patches of life impacts the entire ecosystem.

The patch of coral studied is about the size of half a football field, in water a mile deep some seven miles southwest of Macondo.

"They figured (the coral damage) was the result of the spill, now we can say definitely it was connected to the spill," said Helen White, a chemical oceanographer with Haverford College and the lead researcher.

She said pinpointing the BP well as the source of the contamination required sampling sediment on the sea floor and figuring out what was oil from natural seeps in the Gulf and what was from the Macondo well. Finally, the researchers matched the oil found on the corals with oil that came out of the BP well.

Also, the researchers concluded that the damage was caused by the spill because an underwater plume of oil was tracked passing by the site in June 2010. The paper also noted that a decade of deep-sea coral research in the Gulf had not found coral dying in this manner. The coral was documented for the first time when researchers went looking for oil damage in 2010.

The material covering the corals and other sessile organisms consisted of mucus secreted by the corals (an indicator of stress) as well as fragments of dead coral polyps, fatty acids commonly found in biological tissues such as cell membranes, and petroleum residues, which were identified with the petroleum compounds specific to the Deepwater Horizon spill.
In almost half of the 43 corals studied at the site, the majority of animals had died or were showing signs of stress, the researchers say. And in more than one-quarter of the corals, more than 90% of the animals showed such damage. Also, more than half of the brittle stars, a relative of starfish, found clinging to the sea fans were partially or completely bleached white, another certain sign of stress, says Fisher.

The new findings "show clearly the very negative effects in deep-water communities from this spill," says Samantha Joye, a biogeochemist at the University of Georgia in Athens who wasn't involved in the research. The true extent of damage from the spill is, for now, tough to determine because so much of the sea floor hasn't been examined, she notes. "The deeper you look, the more you're going to find."

Researchers have returned to the site after the initial observations in 2010, but have not released the later findings.

Charles Fisher, a biologist with Penn State University who's led the coral expeditions, said recovery at any of the damaged sites would be slow.

"Things happen very slowly in the deep sea; the temperatures are low, currents are low, those animals live hundreds of years and they die slowly," he said. "It will take a while to know the final outcome of this exposure."

The researchers said the troubled spot consists of 54 coral colonies. The researchers were able to fully photograph and assess 43 of those colonies, and of those, 86 percent were damaged. They said 10 coral colonies showed signs of severe stress on 90 percent of the coral.

White, the lead researcher, said that this coral site was the only one found southwest of the Macondo well so far, but that others may exist. The researchers also wrote in the paper that it was too early to rule out serious damage at other coral sites that may have seemed healthy during previous examinations after the April 2010 spill.

As you might imagine, BP has had no comment regarding the study.

May they rot in a cold, dark, desolate, oily hell.

And it's not just the little hidden creatures...dolphins are continuing to show unusually high rates of disease and death in the Gulf.

Louisiana dolphins are 'very sick;' study of 'unusual mortality event' continues.

A spike in dolphin deaths that occurred after the Macondo blowout - the 'unusual mortality event' - has not abated. Research on dolphins in Louisiana's Barataria Bay in August showed animals suffering from several health problems.

"The dolphins we sampled from Barataria Bay are not in good health. Some are very sick," said Lori Schwacke, who led the dolphin study for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "We are concerned that many of the Barataria Bay dolphins are in such poor health they may not survive."

Scientists recorded abnormally low levels of cortisol and other hormones produced by the adrenal gland. Those hormones work together to control immune function, metabolism, and the body's response to stress.

"These low levels of hormones suggest adrenal deficiency," Schwacke said, explaining that adrenal issues are also associated with low blood sugar, low blood pressure and heart conditions. "These health concerns have not been observed in other parts of the south Atlantic and Gulf coasts."

Since February 2010, the number of dead dolphins washing ashore in the Gulf has been much higher than normal, scientists said. A total of 693 dolphins have washed up in the last two years.

The "unusual mortality event" continues in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, though the number of dead animals found along the Florida Panhandle has returned to normal.

The NOAA tests involved 32 dolphins out of a total population of about 1,000 living in Barataria Bay, which was selected for the tests after being one of the most heavily oiled areas in the Gulf after the gusher. About 180 dead dolphins have washed ashore, or been found floating - which amounts to about 18% of the normal population in the Bay of around 1000.

Teri Rowles, the NOAA veterinarian in charge of investigating dolphin strandings, said researchers in Alabama and Mississippi have not studied live animals, which would add more information on the health of animals in other areas of the Gulf.

"Most of the animals that come in dead are more decomposed. Only 73 of the 693 have been live or freshly dead where we could get a good body condition," Rowles said.

Rowles said NOAA had ruled out biotoxins, such as algae blooms related to red tide, and a measles-like virus common in dolphins, as being responsible for the ongoing die off.

So what else could it be that is killing the dolphins? Biotoxins / algal blooms are also related to release of agricultural fertilizer run-offs into the marine environment. But if that does not seem to be the case, then what's left?

Could it be...Satan? Well, then how about BP? Pretty much the same thing. Right?

See earlier comment re: "...cold, dark, desolate, oily hell."


A piece from earlier this month (from the Gulf Restoration Network) but worth a look...

Bird’s Eye View: Must-See New Photos and Report from the Gulf.

As we continue our climb up the food chain...

Oil spill cleanup workers sought for long-term health study.

State and federal health-care officials in Alabama are asking for anyone who took part in cleanup efforts after the BP gusher to join in a study researching long-term health effects of working closely with the contamination from the spill.

Dale Sandler, chief of the Epidemiology Branch of the National Institute of Environmental Health, says more than 16,000 people have signed up for the study.

“We’ve done more than 2,700 of our telephone interviews in Alabama already,” she said. “We hope at the end of the day that we’ll have 8,000 people at least from Alabama, which would reflect back at about 21 percent of the people who are on our list as having done something related to the oil spill cleanup did come from Alabama.”

Sandler said she expects at least 40,000 people across the Gulf Coast to be signed up for the study by the end of this year. The telephone interviews will be followed by interviews in participants’ homes.

“We are really the largest study that’s ever been done,” she said. “Largely the big oil spills have not had any kind of health follow-up let alone long-term. We already have enrolled more workers in our study than all the others put together.”

She said some long-term studies have been conducted following spills in other countries, such as Spain and South Korea, and short-term studies were done after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.

With so many people involved following the 2010 Gulf spill, the goal of the study is to monitor health effects for at least 10 years.

Is is fair, or is it "keep you mouth shut" money? And are there cases of desperation, where even a little is better than nothing?

Either way, the settlement money is beginning to flow. Whether it's right or not remains to be seen...

New Gulf oil spill claims administrator sends first payments.

The new Gulf oil spill claims administrator has released his first public report of payments made as the process shifts from Kenneth Feinberg's operation to one that will pay claimants under the terms of a proposed legal settlement. New court-supervised claims administrator Patrick Juneau of Lafayette said Friday that from March 8 to March 21, the transition claims processing team has paid 1,096 claimants a total of nearly $27 million.

Most of them, 619 claimants, had an offer pending from Feinberg but hadn't accepted it before Feb. 26. Juneau said that those claimants have now been paid 60 percent of the money Feinberg offered them and won't have to sign a release waiving their right to sue BP or other responsible parties until they get the rest of their money.

Those claimants do not have the option of collecting all of what Feinberg offered them, though.

Once BP and a committee of plaintiffs' lawyers finalize their settlement and set out detailed rules for processing claims -- a move expected by April 16 -- Juneau's team will be able to calculate a final offer based on the new rules. Those claimants will then have the option of taking what the settlement terms would pay them or the remaining 40 percent of Feinberg's original offer.

Those 619 claimants have now been paid a total of more than $19.6 million. Their average offer from Feinberg was $52,835 as a final payment. Juneau and transition coordinator Lynn Greer, a Virginia lawyer who worked for Feinberg under the old process, have now paid them on average $31,701 (60 percent of the $52,835). After April 16, the hypothetical average claimant would be able to collect the remaining average of $21,134 based on the Feinberg offer and release BP from further liability. Or, if the new settlement terms dictate that they should have gotten more than $52,835, they'll be able to collect the remainder of that higher amount.

Louisiana lawmakers continue to press for passage of Restore Act.

Louisiana lawmakers are continuing efforts to pass the Restore Act, which would funnel 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines from the 2010 BP oil spill to the five Gulf States. Last week, the House, on a mostly party-line vote, rejected a Democratic move to pass a two-year $109 billion Senate transportation bill, which includes the Restore Act.

Instead the House will soon take up a 90-day extension of current transportation funding, hoping the Senate will go along.

House Speaker John Boehner is forced to seek the temporary extension because he doesn't have the votes for the GOP's $260 billion, five-year transportation bill. Some of his conservative Tea Party members say it is too expensive, and most Democrats objects to provisions that would force dramatic increase in areas -- inland and offshore -- open to oil and gas development.

Take action here... it an end-run while we're not looking?

New pipeline plan to rival Keystone XL.

Amid political turmoil surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline, two companies announced plans to create a rival system to bring crude oil from Canada and the northern United States to the Gulf Coast.

The move is a response to mounting supply pressure in the north, where advances in drilling technology have heralded an oil boom that has created a glut of landlocked crude with limited transportation options.

Enbridge, Inc., of Calgary, Alberta, and Enterprise Products Partners L.P., of Houston, will collaborate on a $2 billion pipeline from Cushing, Okla., to the Houston area, according to an announcement late Monday. Enbridge will spend $1.9 to $2.8 billion to build another pipeline, from Flanagan, Ill. to Cushing, which would link it to an existing route from Canada and offer access to oil producers in the northern United States. Oil produced in the Bakken shale, including areas in North Dakota and Montana, could be shipped through the pipeline.

The pipelines don’t require the same federal approval as Keystone XL because they will not cross national borders. TransCanada’s plan to build its Keystone XL pipeline to bring oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast was rejected by the Obama administration because it said it did not have enough time to review the plan before a deadline set by Congress.

And if you can't take care of the little nit-picking stuff, no wonder the big shit blows up...

Minor leak reported at BP’s Texas City plant.

A Texas City BP plant is reporting a minor chemical leak today in of its processing units that makes gasoline.

The plant issued a shelter-in-place for employees on-site as they controlled the minor hydrofluoric acid leak in an alkylation unit, officials said. It was unclear what caused the leak.

“As a precaution we put refinery employees in a shelter-in-place,” said Tom Mueller, a spokesman for BP. “There are no impacts on the community around Texas City.” The Texas City refinery has about 2,200 employees.

Petrobras America sues over broken chain on Gulf oil system.
Petrobras America Inc. sued marine chain-maker Vicinay Cadenas SA for at least $180 million over losses allegedly caused by a broken chain that let parts of a floating oil production system sink and drift away in the Gulf of Mexico last year.

The Houston-based unit of Brazil’s state-controlled oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA accused Vicinay of hiding “unauthorized and defective repair welds’’ in a set of marine chains the Spanish firm designed and built to serve a floating production system at the company’s Cascade and Chinook oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico. The fields are about 160 miles (257.5 kilometers) south of New Orleans.

And although we try to avoid the overtly political here at Gulf Watchers, and that the "drill here, drill now" ain't gonna do a damn thing for the price of gas (because petroleum product prices are determined by international markets, and what is "ours" just isn't...) we close with a piece from Loren Steffy...

U.S. oil production gains are like water pumps on the Titanic.

I filled up yesterday for $3.88 a gallon, which was 4 cents more than what I paid four days earlier. Consumers are painfully aware that gasoline prices have been on the rise for the past few months, and while such increases had been predicted since last fall, no one’s happy that the predictions proved correct.

Because this is an election year, rising gasoline prices are fueling political rhetoric. President Obama has hit the road to tout his energy plan, which he outlined in his State of the Union speech in January.

Missing the boat: the political debates over gasoline prices ignore the bigger problem.*

Meanwhile, his opponents have argued his policies are driving up gasoline prices, even though presidents have little power over pump prices. The oil industry, though, claims that if it got its way, all problems would be solved. It favors more drilling, fewer regulations and lower taxes...

Please take a minute to read the rest here...and know that *we absolutely have to increase the speed at which we unhook ourselves from fossil fuels - from any source, domestic or international. Our children's and grandchildren's lives depend on it, as does the entire planet...

This is not good...

Update: North Sea blowout (h/t marsanges)

May be months to stop North Sea gas cloud.

A cloud of explosive natural gas boiling up from the North Sea out of a leak at Total's evacuated Elgin platform forced another shutdown off the Scottish coast on Tuesday as the French firm warned it could take six months to halt the flow.

Dubbed "the well from hell" by an environmentalist who said the unusually high pressure of the undersea reservoirs made it especially hard to shut off, the loss of oil and gas output from Elgin - as well as the prospect of a big repair bill - helped drive Total's share price down six percent on the Paris bourse.

Total, which said the rupture of an unused reservoir above the main production source seemed to have been caused by its own engineers, is now looking at two main options to cut off the shimmering plume of gas rising above the sea: either drilling a relief well nearby, which could take six months, or - faster but possibly riskier - sending in engineers to "kill" the leak.

The firm concurred with British authorities which called the environmental impact from the plume of gas and a spreading sheen of light oil on the water "minimal", although environmental pollution experts said much of the gas "cocktail" would be either flammable or poisonous at close quarters. The thin film of oil should evaporate without the need to spray dispersals.

Damn. And it was apparently human error...
PLEASE visit Pam LaPier's diary to find out how you can help the Gulf now and in the future. We don't have to be idle! And thanks to Crashing Vor and Pam LaPier for working on this!
Previous Gulf Watcher diaries:
3-20-12 05:00 PM Gulf Watchers Tuesday - Whistleblower asks court to shut down Atlantis rig- BP Catastrophe AUV #583 peraspera
3-09-12 06:31 PM Gulf Watchers Block Party - Sniglets Edition... Lorinda Pike
The last Mothership has links to reference material.

Previous motherships and ROV's from this extensive live blog effort may be found here.

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