Gulf Research Pilot Troubled by Oil Sighting in Macondo Prospect


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

It is over sixteen months since the BP oil disaster, now rebranded the Macondo oil “spill,” or the Deepwater Horizon “spill.”

The Financial Times reports 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 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 twelve months ago and was featured on the Today Show.

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 US 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 is BP sampling oil on August 30 while they maintain that there is no oil coming from MC252 (Macondo) in an August 26 press release? For those who have forgotten, there is an excellent time line 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 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.

georgianne nienaberAnd 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.

Georgianne Nienaber


  1. Dacutler says

    You may be interested in an online documentary playing on 11/11/11. It’s all about new resources in energy and what large companies like exxon try to blocke it. It’s about the public coming together about this. Please watch its called Thrive.

  2. Joe Weinstein says

    Great article.

    Yes, commenter Ryder trots out that old idea that just naturally oil leaks in great quantities from the bottom of the sea. That does not explain this case, however: the leakage described in the article was not known historically but happens to show up now in the Gulf near in place and time to a known blowout.

    In yet other cases, long-assumed ‘natural’ oil leakage turns out to be due to old sunk nigh-forgotten shipping – as we found out here on the California coast – when decades of mysterious oil leakages were traced to a sunk vessel near the Farallones.

    • Georgianne Nienaber says

      The proof is in the pudding. Thanks.

      Sky truth (which originally documented the true volume of oil in the original disaster) confirms Schumaker’s findings here

      I addition, Schumaker flew the Mississippi Canyon on Saturday, 10 September and observed this”

      “We also found, easily and quickly, a long streak of oil and oil ‘globules’, stretching for several miles from southwest to northeast but less than 100 meter wide. (See videos below.) And who was near it, but the same BP-contracted vessel we’ve seen several times before sailing or sampling in this area — the Sarah Bordelon. According to, she returned to the scene of last year’s BP disaster (the “MC252 block”) as soon as Hurricane Lee had passed through, and for the past few days she has resumed her practice of sailing grid patterns, in the same areas where we have been videotaping and photographing oil from the air. As we approached, she executed a U-turn and proceeded in a direction that brought her closer to us.”

      Read her log and see more photos and video at:

  3. Ryder says

    Oil is a natural substance, and it “leaks” into the ocean in tremendous quantities… and is indeed part of the natural ecosystem (such as it is… it is not a “designed” system, but simply “what is”). In fact, trying to eliminate oil entering the ocean would be very much AGAINST “mother nature”.

    That being said… if there is a “substantial” leak in a single location, certainly, we should stop it up, if for no other reason the waste, while at the same time not panicking over one of trillions of “leaks” of oil that naturally occur 24/7 in the oceans.

    We are managers of resources… and we should manage this.

    It troubles me that the author is concerned with how deep we look into the earth… which of course has nothing to do with oil leaks. Deeper wells are no more or no less likely to “leak” than wells that are less deep.

    Until our arguments make rational sense, I don’t expect we’d be listened to by other rational people. Of course those with torches and pitch forks will listen to anything… presented correctly… but that’s not the goal, is it?

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