Yesterday I attended the final public hearing of the presidentially-appointed National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling (aka, the “Spill Commission”). The attendance was sparse – only about 15-20 folks were in the public audience, and several of those seemed to be Commission staff members. I hope people are watching this online (streaming here right now, until the meeting wraps up at 3pm this afternoon) because the staff reports and recommendations cover a broad range of issues, the Commission deliberation is thoughtful, and this is a good preview of what the final report to the President will – and will not – address.
During the public comment period, SkyTruth made a pitch to the Commission for implementing routine satellite monitoring for pollution detection. Here’s the text of our comment (written during my long pre-dawn train commute into DC yesterday):
Thank you Commissioners. My name is John Amos; I am a geologist and the president of SkyTruth, a non-profit organization in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. At SkyTruth we use satellite images and other remote-sensing data to study and illustrate environmental issues. During the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill we collected near-daily imagery from a variety of sources. With this imagery, and our expertise, we were able to
- Effectively track and measure oil slicks
- Make a conservative, science-based estimate of the flow rate within the first week of the spill
- Show entrainment of the oil slick in the Loop Current
- Show the dissipation of oil slicks following the July 15 closure of the Macondo well
- Measure the total surface footprint of the spill in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico
We also stumbled on a small but persistent spill nearby, unrelated to the BP spill, and apparently known to the MMS and Coast Guard but generally not known to the public at large. This spill was caused by a group of wells damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and presumably leaking ever since.
Satellite images, especially radar images, have been regularly used for decades to detect and track oil pollution at sea. During the 1990s I personally performed dozens of commercial exploration studies for energy companies, using satellite images to detect small, persistent oil slicks caused by natural oil seeps on the seafloor worldwide. Now, with an expanded constellation of earth-observing satellites in orbit, including several radar imaging satellites, routine ocean monitoring is technically feasible.
In your final report to the President, I hope the Commission recommends that the nation moves expeditiously to implement routine, publicly transparent satellite monitoring of U.S. waters to detect and assess pollution and other threats, and to assure the American public that their government is effectively managing and protecting our vital marine resources.