There are 13,000 people in Louisiana alone working on the containment and cleanup of the Gulf oil spill, a massive operation being coordinated and supervised by the U.S. Coast Guard. Fox News flew on a Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter early Friday with the Deputy Incident Commander in charge of overseeing those operations, Commander Nathan Knapp, surveying the Deepwater Horizon site for the first time since the fringe effects of Hurricane Alex turned the seas and skies rough and grounded many of the ships and aircraft involved.
There is very little oil visible close to shore, much of it churned by rough seas over the past few days. About 25 miles out, halfway from the coast to the spill zone, large areas of oily sheen appear, thinner layers not suitable for skimming. Then, just inside 20 miles from the source, the Gulf’s blue waters turn black. It’s truly an oil slick, thicker and darker as the helicopter roars closer to the busted rig.
There are pools of metallic rainbow colors in the thick crude which appears remarkably thick. The Commander says it’s “very skimmable” but there are no skimmers at work. They were grounded by the 8-10 foot swells and are slow moving vessels, on their way back now and scheduled to resume work when they reach the zone.
Then the Deepwater Horizon site comes into view, and it’s stunning. Raw, powerful, amazing and awful at the same time, almost apocalyptic with the black seas and stench of oil and heat from the two massive flames burning 9,000 barrels of captured crude each day. A dozen large ships ring the area, including the Q4000 and Enterprise, helping to contain and capture the oil 5000 feet below. The Helix Producer is anchored there too but its equipment that’s supposed to double the containment capacity to more than 53,000 barrels a day hasn’t been hooked up yet.
We circle the site several times. Everyone on board takes pictures.
I ask the Commander if what he sees upsets him.
“It does in a personal sense but in a professional sense I’m encouraged by what we’re doing at the source” he says. “I’m encouraged by the effort we’re giving it, despite what’s been said. We have the largest response to an oil release ever going on right now.”
It’s a layered effort, trying to contain the oil at the leak, burning some of it, skimming it in deep waters and closer to shore, stopping and collecting it with boom and absorbent materials or redirecting it towards specific areas where it can be captured or cleaning it up when it hits shore.
Of course the best way to battle the spill is to stop it at it’s source, but that’s something no one seems able to do yet.